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Glossary of Terms

Cancer is a malignant growth in the body. Cancer happens when some cells in the body begin to grow out-of-control. Cancer may invade (spread to) other parts of the body.

Different types of cancer include:

Adrenal Gland: The adrenal glands are small glands located above each kidney. Adrenal gland tumors are rare. Adrenal gland tumors include adrenal cortical carcinoma (cancer of the outer shell of the adrenal gland), pheochromocytoma (endocrine tumor that develops from the inner adrenal gland cells), and benign adrenal tumors. Adrenal tumors and cancers may produce high levels of hormones that can cause weight gain, early puberty, heart palpitations, sweating, nausea, and/or headaches.

Adrenal gland cancer is surgically removed and often treated with chemotherapy after surgery.

Benign adrenal tumors are usually removed, unless they are very small. They are not malignant and will not invade other tissues.

Basal Cell Carcinoma is a specific type of skin cancer. It is one of the most common types of skin cancer. It often develops in areas that are frequently exposed to sunlight, such as the face.

Basal cell carcinoma (sometimes called BCC) is surgically removed. If the basal cell carcinoma is large, a second surgery called Mohs surgery may be needed. Some patients may also undergo chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or Cryosurgery (cold treatment).

Benign Tumor: A benign tumor is a non-cancerous (non-malignant) growth in the body. It may grow in size, but it will not spread to other tissues in the body.

Bile duct cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in the bile duct. It may invade (spread to) other parts of the body. Bile ducts are small tubes that transfer bile (bodily fluid that helps digest food) from the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas to the intestines.

Bile duct cancer is treated by surgical removal and may also be treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy after surgery or instead of surgery.

Bladder cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in the lining of the bladder (the organ that holds urine). Bladder cancer may invade (spread to) other parts of the body. Bladder cancer is treated by surgery, which may include removing the cancer through a thin tube inserted into the urethra or partial or complete removal of the bladder. If the cancer has spread to nearby organs such as the prostate, uterus, or ovaries, these may be surgically removed also.

Brain cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in the brain. It may invade (spread to) other parts of the body. If possible, it is removed by surgery and is usually treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy after surgery or instead of surgery.

A benign (non-cancerous) brain tumor is not malignant. While it may grow in size and may affect brain function over time, benign brain tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. Benign brain tumors may be removed by surgery or may simply be followed by a physician.

Cervical cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in a woman’s cervix (the opening of the uterus). It may invade (spread to) other parts of the body. Cervical cancer only occurs in women.

Cervical cancer is diagnosed by a cervical biopsy (colposcopy) after a pap smear screening test. Not all abnormal pap smears mean that a woman has cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer can be removed by surgery if it is found in an early stage. Late-stage, or advanced, cervical cancer is usually also treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Colon/Rectal Cancer Colon Cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in the colon, or large intestine (the last part of the digestive system before the rectum). Rectal cancer is a malignant growth in the rectum. Colon/rectal cancer may invade (spread to) other parts of the body.

Colon/rectal cancer is treated by surgical removal of the cancer and is often also treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.

Colon Polyps: A colon polyp is a benign growth in the colon. Is is not cancerous, but some polyps may grow into a colon cancer over time. These benign polyps can actually occur anywhere in the digestive system, but are most common in the colon. To prevent a future cancer, colon polyps are almost always removed during a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy.

Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) is a malignant (cancerous) growth in the milk duct in the breast and has not spread beyond the duct. It is sometimes considered a “pre-cancer” because it has not invaded the rest of the breast. If DCIS spreads to other parts of the breast or other parts of the body, it becomes an invasive breast cancer. DCIS can occur in one breast (unilateral) or both breasts (bilateral).

Esophageal Cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth of tissue in the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. It may invade (spread to) other parts of the body.

If the esophageal cancer is small, it will be surgically removed. Sometimes surgery involves removing part of the esophagus. Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may be given before or after surgery.

Eye cancer can develop in different parts of the eye, including the eyelid, iris (colored part of the eye), retina (back of the eye), and optic nerve. Eye cancer includes melanoma, carcinoma, lymphoma, and retinoblastoma. Eye cancer is often removed by surgery and can sometimes be treated with chemotherapy, localized radiation therapy, or Cryotherapy (cold therapy), depending on the type.

Hyperparathyroidism: The average person has 4 parathyroid glands located around the thyroid gland in the neck. The parathyroid glands produce parathyroid hormone (PTH), which helps control calcium levels in the blood.

Hyperparathyroidism is the overactivity of the parathyroid glands that results in increased produce of PTH. Symptoms of untreated hyperparathyroidism include: kidney stones, kidney failure, osteoporosis, arthritis, constipation, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, depression, memory loss and/or hallucinations or altered thinking.

Hyperparathyroidism is treated by surgical removal of the overactive parathyroid glands and with medicine.

Invasive breast cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in the breast. Invasive breast cancer has already invaded (spread to) different parts of the breast and may invade other parts of the body. Breast cancer can occur in one breast (unilateral) or both breasts (bilateral). Breast cancer can occur in women and men. Invasive breast cancer is different from ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).

Kidney Cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in the kidney (two organs in the abdomen that are involved in regulating bodily fluids and processing urine). Kidney cancer may invade (spread to) other parts of the body. Kidney cancer is often called Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC). Kidney cancer can occur in one kidney (unilateral) or both kidneys (bilateral). Treatment for kidney cancer includes surgical removal of part of the kidney or the entire kidney (nephrectomy). Some people may need to go on dialysis (kidney replacement therapy) after surgery. Radiation therapy may be used to treat cancers that cannot be removed by surgery.

Benign kidney tumors and cysts are not malignant and will not spread to other parts of the body. It can sometimes be difficult to tell if a tumor is benign or malignant until after surgery. Benign kidney tumors and kidney cysts may be monitored by a physician or surgically removed. Benign kidney tumors and cysts can occur in one kidney (unilateral) or both kidneys (bilateral).

Leukemia is a malignant (cancerous) growth of the blood cells and bone marrow. There are many different types of leukemia, including:

  • Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)
  • Chronic Lymphoblastic Leukemia (CLL)
  • Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)
  • Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)

Treatment depends on the type of leukemia and the age of the patient. Patients often undergo bone marrow transplantation and may also receive chemotherapy and/or antibody therapy.

Lung cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in the lung. It may invade (spread to) other parts of the body. Lung cancer is more common in people who have been exposed to long-term cigarette smoke or asbestos, but it can occur in anyone.

Symptoms of lung cancer include shortness of breathing, coughing, chest pain, coughing up blood, difficulty swallowing, and weight loss. Treatment for lung cancer depends on the type and level of disease, but it can include surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy.

Lymphoma is a malignant (cancerous) growth of the body’s lymphatic system including the lymph nodes. It may invade (spread to) other parts of the body. Lymphoma includes Hodgkin Lymphoma and others types, which are grouping into the term Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Melanoma is a specific type of skin cancer. Melanoma often invades (spreads to) other tissues. It often develops in areas that are frequently exposed to sunlight, such as the face.

Melanoma is removed by surgery. Sometimes lymph nodes will also be removed as part of the surgical evaluation. Sometimes a second surgery called a called Mohs surgery may be needed to remove the area of skin around the melanoma. If a patient has a malignant melanoma (melanoma that has spread to other tissues), chemotherapy, radiation and/or immunotherapy may be given.

Ovarian cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in one or both of the ovaries (the reproductive organs where a woman’s eggs are stored). It may invade (spread to) other parts of the body. Ovarian cancer only occurs in women.

Ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed at a late stage (advanced) after the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. Ovarian cancer is removed by surgery (salpingo-oophorectomy or total hysterectomy) and then may be treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy afterwards.

Prostate cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in the prostate (the reproductive organ in men located behind the testicles). It may invade (spread to) other parts of the body. Prostate cancer only occurs in men and is very common in men over the age of 50.

Prostate cancer can be removed by surgery and/or treated with radiation therapy, hormone therapy, or chemotherapy.

Prostate cancer is different from Benign Prostate Hypertrophy (prostate enlargement).

Pancreatic cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in the pancreas. It may invade (spread to) other parts of the body. Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect at an early stage. It is usually diagnosed at a late stage (advanced) after the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. Pancreatic cancer is treated by surgical removal, which may include surgical removal of parts of other nearby organs, such as the stomach, intestines, spleen and gallbladder if the cancer has spread. Pancreatic cancer is also often treated with chemotherapy and sometimes radiation therapy.

Benign pancreatic tumors and cysts are not malignant and will not spread to other parts of the body. However, it can be difficult to tell if a tumor is benign or malignant until after surgery. For this reason, benign pancreatic tumors are usually removed through surgery.

Both malignant pancreatic cancer and benign pancreatic tumors sometimes make high levels of pancreatic hormones that can cause symptoms of low or high blood sugar levels, stomach ulcers, and/or diarrhea. These cancers and tumors are called endocrine pancreatic tumors, or islet cell tumors.

Paraganglioma and pheochromocytoma are very rare tumors. They are endocrine tumors that can occur anywhere in the body but most often develop in the adrenal gland (pheochromocytoma) or in the abdomen, chest, or neck areas (paraganglioma). These tumors are usually benign but can be malignant (cancerous) in about 10% of cases. Paraganglioma and pheochromocytoma may produce high levels of hormones that can cause heart palpitations, sweating, nausea, and/or headaches.

Pituitary Gland: The pituitary gland is located in the hypothalamus in the base of the brain. The hormones released by the pituitary gland help control the body’s growth, blood pressure, thyroid activity, and sex hormone levels.

Pituitary gland cancer, or pituitary carcinoma, is a rare malignant (cancerous) growth in the pituitary gland. Pituitary gland cancer can spread to other tissues in the brain and other parts of the body. These tumors may be treated with medications or radiation therapy to reduce tumor size and may also be removed surgically.

Benign pituitary tumors, or adenomas, are very common. Some benign pituitary tumors do not have any noticeable symptoms and do not require any treatment. Other pituitary tumors produce elevated hormone levels that can cause symptoms of weight gain, increased sweating, changes in hair growth, changes in body growth, increased thyroid activity, infertility, irregular menstrual periods, and/or sexual dysfunction. These tumors may be treated with medications or radiation therapy to reduce tumor size and may also be removed surgically.

Retinoblastoma is a very rare eye cancer of the retina that occurs in young children. It may occur in one eye or both eyes (bilateral retinoblastoma).

A benign eye tumor may be surgically removed or monitored by a physician. Benign eye tumors may grow in size but they are not malignant (cancerous) and they will not invade other tissues.

Sarcoma is a rare and aggressive cancer. Sarcomas develop in specific tissues in the body called connective tissue, which includes bone, cartilage, muscle and fat. Treatment includes surgical removal and radiation therapy and chemotherapy, sometimes before and after surgery.

Sebaceous Carcinoma is a specific type of skin cancer. Sebaceous carcinoma is a rare cancer that develops from the sebaceous glands in the skin. Sebaceous carcinoma is different from sebaceous cysts, which are common non-cancerous growths in the sebaceous glands.

Sebaceous carcinoma is surgically removed. If the sebaceous carcinoma is large, a second surgery called Mohs surgery may be needed. Some patients may also undergo chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or Cryosurgery (cold treatment).

Stomach cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in tissue lining the wall of the stomach. It often metastasizes (spreads to) other parts of the body. One of the major risk factors for stomach cancer is a high level of the bacteria H. Pylori in the stomach.

Stomach cancer is treated by surgical removal of part or all of the stomach (gastrectomy) and sometimes treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Small intestine cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in the small intestines, or small bowel. It may invade (spread to) other parts of the body. Small intestine cancer is also named by the location of the cancer in the small intestine: duodenum cancer, jejunum cancer, or ileum cancer.

Small intestine Cancer is treated by surgical removal of the part of intestine with cancer and may also be treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma is a specific type of skin cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma (sometimes called SCC) is surgically removed. If the squamous cell carcinoma is large, a second surgery called Mohs surgery may be needed. Some patients may also undergo chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or Cryosurgery (cold treatment).

Testicular cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth in a testicle (the reproductive organs in men that produce sperm). It may invade (spread to) other parts of the body. Testicular cancer only occurs in men.

Testicular cancer is treated by surgical removal of the testicle with cancer and/or treated with radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Thyroid: Types of thyroid cancer are defined by the type of thyroid tissue affected by cancer (the cancer pathology). This includes Medullary thyroid cancer, Papillary thyroid cancer, Follicular thyroid cancer, and other types. Thyroid cancer can metastasize, or spread, to other tissues in the body.

Thyroid cancer is treated with a lobectomy (removal of half the thyroid) or thyroidectomy (complete removal of the thyroid gland) and may also be treated with radiation therapy, radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment, and/or chemotherapy. People with thyroid cancer may be given hormone therapy to stop the thyroid cancer from growing as well as hormone-replacement therapy since the thyroid cannot produce enough thyroid hormone naturally after surgery.

Benign thyroid tumors are common. They include: a single thyroid cyst or nodule, multinodular goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland due to many tumors), or solid goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland). Thyroid tumors are often tested with a biopsy and may be removed with a lobectomy (removal of half the thyroid) or thyroidectomy (complete removal of the thyroid gland) or just followed by a physician.

Uterus/Endometrium: Uterine cancer (endometrial cancer) is a malignant (cancerous) growth in the lining of the uterus (also known as the womb, where a baby is carried). It may invade (spread to) other parts of the body. Uterine cancer only occurs in women.

The most common treatment for uterine cancer is surgical removal of the uterus (hysterectomy).

Benign Uterine Tumors are very common. They develop in the lining of the uterus. Benign uterine tumors are not malignant and will not spread to other parts of the boy. Depending on the number of tumors and size of each tumor, benign uterine tumors may be monitored by a physician over time or may be removed by surgery. Some women may have surgery to remove the entire uterus (hysterectomy).


This glossary is a handy reference guide providing an overview of various genetic and inherited conditions.