Breast Cancer Glossary

The following key terms and definitions may help you to feel more informed about your diagnosis. Please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Breast Team if further clarification is required.

Definitions courtesy of Breast Cancer Care
Or find it alphabetically:

A

Adjuvant Treatment

Given in addition to other treatment, for example chemotherapy or radiotherapy given after surgery.

Advanced breast cancer

Breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast and the lymph nodes under the arm to other parts of the body. Also known as secondary, stage 4 or metastatic breast cancer.

Axilla

Under the arm, the armpit.

Axillary clearance

An operation to remove all the lymph nodes (also called lymph glands) from under the arm (axilla).

Axillary nodes

The lymph nodes (also called lymph glands) under the arm (axilla).

B

Bilateral

Affecting or about both the right and left sides of body. For example, a bilateral mastectomy is removal of both breasts.

Bone metastases

Also known as secondary breast cancer in the bone. Cancer cells that have spread from the breast to the bones.

Bone scan

A test to help identify any abnormal changes, such as tumours, infection or fractures, in the bones.

Brain metastases

Also known as secondary breast cancer in the brain. Cancer cells that have spread from the breast to the brain.

BRCA1 and BRCA2

People who inherit an altered BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene from either parent have a much higher risk of developing breast cancer and some other cancers compared with the general population.

Breast care nurse

Provides information and support to people diagnosed with breast cancer.

C

Chemotherapy

Treatment that destroys cancer cells using anti-cancer drugs.

Clinical trials

Research that aims to improve treatment or care for patients.

Contralateral

The other or opposite side, for example the contralateral breast.

CT (computerised tomography) scan

Also known as a CAT scan. A type of scan that uses x-rays to take detailed pictures across the body.

D

DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ)

An early type of breast cancer where the cells have not yet developed the ability to spread out of the ducts into surrounding breast tissue or to other parts of the body. Sometimes called pre-invasive, intraductal or non-invasive cancer.

DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan

A scan that measures bone density, used to assess the risk of developing, diagnosing or monitoring Osteoporosis.

E

ER status ER positive (ER+)

means the breast cancer has oestrogen receptors. ER negative (ER-) means the breast cancer doesn’t have oestrogen receptors (see Oestrogen receptors)

G

Grade

The system used to classify cancer cells according to how different they are to normal breast cells and how quickly they are growing.

H

HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2)

A protein involved in the growth of cells. Around 15–20% of breast cancers have higher than normal levels of HER2 (known as HER2 positive) which stimulates them to grow.

Hormone receptor involved in the growth of cells

In some breast cancers they bind to hormones within the cells (known as hormone receptor positive) and stimulate the cancer to grow

Hormones

Chemical messengers produced in various organs of the body that regulate growth and reproduction.

I

Inflammatory breast cancer

A rare type of breast cancer where the skin of the breast looks red, and may feel warm and tender (‘inflamed’). In situ (breast cancer) Breast cancer that has not developed the ability to spread outside the ducts, either within the breast or elsewhere in the body.

Invasive cancer  

Has the potential to spread to other parts of the body.

L

Lumpectomy

An operation to remove an area of breast tissue with or without a margin of healthy tissue. In breast cancer may also be called wide local excision or breast-conserving surgery.

Lymph nodes

Also known as lymph glands. Small oval-shaped structures found in clusters throughout the lymphatic system, for example under the arm (axilla).

Lymphatic system  

The drainage and filtering system of the body, made up of lymph nodes (lymph glands), vessels and fluid. Helps to get rid of waste products and fight infection.

Lymphoedema

Swelling of the arm, hand or breast/chest area caused by a build-up of lymph fluid in the surface tissues of the body. It can occur as a result of damage to the lymphatic system, for example because of surgery and/or radiotherapy to the lymph nodes under the arm (axilla) and surrounding area.

Lympho-vascular invasion   

When breast cancer cells spread into (invade) the lymph and blood vessels within the breast, and can be seen in these vessels under the microscope.

M

Mammogram

A breast x-ray.

Mastectomy

Removal of all the breast tissue including the nipple area.

Metastases

Another name for secondary breast cancer.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan

Uses magnetism and radio waves to produce a series of images of the inside of the body. An MRI doesn’t expose the body to x-ray radiation.

N

Neo-adjuvant

Cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy, given before surgery. Sometimes called primary, for example primary hormone therapy.

O

Oestrogen receptors

Proteins within cancer cells that bind to the female hormone oestrogen and stimulate the cancer to grow (may be abbreviated to ER, from the US spelling estrogen).

P

PET (positron emission tomography) scan

A scan that produces a three-dimensional image giving details on both the structure and function of organs or tissue being looked at. It is sometimes combined with a CT scan.

Primary breast cancer

Breast cancer that has not spread beyond the breast or the lymph nodes (lymph glands) under the arm (axilla)

Progesterone receptors  

Proteins within cancer cells that bind to the hormone progesterone (may be abbreviated to PR).

R

Radiotherapy

The use of high energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells.

Recurrence

When a disease or condition returns. There are several types of breast cancer recurrence.

  • Local recurrence - Breast cancer that has come back in the chest/breast area or in the skin near the original site or scar.
  • Locally advanced - breast cancer (also known as regional recurrence) Breast cancer that has come back and has spread to the tissues and lymph nodes (lymph glands) around the chest, neck and under the breastbone.
  • Distant recurrence - also called metastatic, advanced, stage 4 or secondary breast cancer. When cancer cells from the breast have spread to other parts of the body such as the bones, lungs, liver or brain.

S

Secondary breast cancer  

When cancer cells from the breast have spread to other parts of the body such as the bones, lungs, liver or brain. Also called metastases, advanced breast cancer, secondaries or stage 4 breast cancer.

Stage

The size of the cancer and how far it has spread.

U

Ultrasound scan

Uses high frequency sound waves to produce an image.

W

Wide local excision (WLE)

Surgery to remove breast cancer with a margin of healthy tissue. Sometimes called breast-conserving surgery or lumpectomy.

X

X-ray

Used to produce images of dense tissues in the body such as bone or lungs