Words to Know

BAK gel

Also called baclofen/amitriptyline/ketamine gel. A substance being studied in the treatment of peripheral neuropathy (pain, numbness, tingling, burning, or weakness in the hands or feet) caused by chemotherapy. It contains three medicines, baclofen, amitriptyline, and ketamine, which relax muscles by blocking nerve receptors. The gel is applied to the skin of affected areas. It is a type of analgesic.

balloon catheter radiation

Also called MammoSite. A system used to deliver internal radiation therapy to the site of the breast cancer after surgery to remove the tumor. Balloon catheter radiation targets only the part of the breast where the cancer was found. After a lumpectomy, a small balloon on the end of a catheter (a thin tube) is inserted into the empty space left by the surgery. The balloon is then filled with liquid and left in place. Using the catheter, radioactive seeds are put into the balloon twice a day for 5 days and removed each time. Once treatment has ended, the catheter and balloon are removed. Balloon catheter radiation is a type of intracavitary brachytherapy and partial breast irradiation therapy (PBRT).


An initial measurement taken at an early point in time to represent a beginning condition. It is used as a point of comparison to look for changes over time. For example, the size of a tumor will be measured before treatment (baseline) and then afterward to see if the treatment had an effect.

behavior modification

A technique used to help people change the way they react to certain triggers in the environment that cause a negative reaction. In breast cancer treatment, behavior modification may be used to help women with breast cancer who have become nauseous during previous cancer treatments cope with nausea they feel when they enter the therapy room to begin a new round of treatment.

best practice

In medicine, treatment that experts agree is appropriate, accepted and widely used. Healthcare providers are obligated to provide best practice treatments. Also called standard of care and standard therapy.


Also called Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System. A method used by radiologists to interpret and report the results of mammograms, ultrasounds and MRIs in a standardized manner.

Biafine cream

A medicine put on the skin to help repair damaged skin. It may be used to treat the redness, burning and peeling caused by radiation therapy.


In a scientific research study or clinical trial, a flaw in the study design or the method of collecting or interpreting information. Biases can lead to incorrect conclusions about what the study or clinical trial showed.

bilateral breast cancer

Cancer that occurs in both breasts.


Affecting both the right and left sides of the body. A bilateral mastectomy is surgery to remove both the right and left breast.

bilateral prophylactic mastectomy

A preventative (prophylactic) surgery to remove both breasts, in order to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy

Surgery to remove both ovaries and both fallopian tubes. This surgery is sometimes recommended to women with a higher cancer risk, as a preventative measure.


A method of learning to voluntarily control certain body functions such as heartbeat, blood pressure and muscle tension with the help of a special machine. This method can help control pain.


A substance that is made from a living organism or its products and is used to help prevent, diagnose, or treat cancer and other diseases. Biologics include antibodies, interleukins and vaccines.


The removal of cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist. The pathologist may study the tissue under a microscope or perform other tests on the cells or tissue. There are many different types of biopsy procedures. The most common types include: (1) incisional biopsy, in which only a sample of tissue is removed; (2) excisional biopsy, in which an entire lump or suspicious area is removed; and (3) needle biopsy, in which a sample of tissue or fluid is removed with a needle. When a wide needle is used, the procedure is called a core biopsy. When a thin needle is used, the procedure is called a fine-needle aspiration biopsy.

biopsy specimen

Tissue removed from the body and examined under a microscope to determine whether disease is present.


Treatment to boost or restore the ability of the immune system to fight cancer, infections and other diseases. Also used to lessen certain side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments. Monoclonal antibodies, growth factors and vaccines are used in biotherapy and may have a direct antitumor effect.


A medicine used to treat hypercalcemia (abnormally high blood calcium) and bone pain caused by some types of cancer. Bisphosphonates inhibit a type of bone cell that breaks down bone.

bisphosphonate-associated osteonecrosis

The necrosis (death) of bone tissue caused by treatment with a bisphosphonate (a medicine or substance used to treat osteoporosis, bone pain caused by some types of cancer, and high blood calcium). It commonly occurs in the jaw bones. There may be pain, swelling and infection in the areas of necrosis.

blinded study

A type of study in which the participants (single-blinded) or the participants and their doctors (double-blinded) do not know which medicine or treatment is being given. The opposite of a blinded study is an open-label study.

blood cell count

A test to check the number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in a sample of blood. Also called CBC and complete blood count.

blood chemistry study

A procedure in which a sample of blood is examined to measure the amounts of certain substances made in the body. An abnormal amount of a substance can be a sign of disease in the organ or tissue that produces it.

blood-brain barrier disruption

The use of medicines to create openings between cells in the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier is a protective network of blood vessels and tissue that protects the brain from harmful substances, but can also prevent anticancer medicines from reaching the brain. Once the barrier is opened, anticancer medicines may be infused into an artery that goes to the brain, in order to treat brain tumors. Also called BBBD.

blood-brain barrier

A network of blood vessels and tissue that is made up of closely spaced cells and helps keep harmful substances from reaching the brain. The blood-brain barrier lets some substances, such as water, oxygen, carbon dioxide and general anesthetics pass into the brain. It also keeps out bacteria and other substances, such as many anticancer medicines. Also called BBB.

board certified oncology pharmacy specialist

A licensed pharmacist with special training in how to design, give, monitor and change chemotherapy. Also called BCOP and oncology pharmacy specialist.

body image

The way a person thinks and feels about his or her body and how it looks to others.

body mass index

A measure that relates body weight to height. BMI is sometimes used to measure total body fat and whether a person is a healthy weight. Excess body fat is linked to an increased risk of some diseases including heart disease and some cancers. Also called BMI.

bolus dose

A single dose of a medicine or other substance given over a short period of time. It is usually given by infusion or injection into a blood vessel. It may also be given by mouth.

bone density

A measure of the amount of minerals, mostly calcium and phosphorous, contained in a certain volume of bone. Bone density measurements are used to diagnose osteoporosis, a condition marked by decreased bone mass, to see how well osteoporosis treatments are working and to predict how likely the bones are to break. Low bone density can occur in individuals treated for cancer. Also called BMD, bone mass and bone mineral density.

bone metastasis

Cancer that has spread from the original (primary) tumor to the bone.

bone mineral density scan

An imaging test that measures bone density (the amount of bone mineral contained in a certain volume of bone) by passing X-rays with two different energy levels through the bone. It is used to diagnose osteoporosis (decrease in bone mass and density). Also called BMD scan, DEXA, DEXA scan, dual energy X-ray absorptiometric scan, dual X-ray absorptiometry and DXA.

bone scan

A technique to create images of bones on a computer screen or on film. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into a blood vessel and travels through the bloodstream; it collects in the bones and is detected by a scanner.

bone-seeking radioisotope

A radioactive substance that is given through a vein, and collects in bone cells and in tumor cells that have spread to the bone. It kills cancer cells by giving off low-level radiation.


A type of radiation therapy in which radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters is placed directly into or near a tumor. Also called implant radiation therapy, internal radiation therapy and radiation brachytherapy.

brain metastasis

Cancer that has spread from the original (primary) tumor to the brain.


A gene on chromosome 17 that normally helps to suppress cell growth. A person who inherits certain mutations, or changes, in a BRCA1 gene has a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian, prostate and other types of cancer.


A gene on chromosome 13 that normally helps to suppress cell growth. A person who inherits certain mutations, or changes, in a BRCA2 gene has a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian, prostate and other types of cancer.


A computer program that uses statistics to predict whether a person has an inherited mutation, or change, in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. People who have certain mutations in these genes have a higher than normal risk of breast, ovarian, prostate and other types of cancer. The program is based on personal and family medical histories of breast and ovarian cancer.

breast carcinoma in situ

Also called stage 0 breast carcinoma in situ. There are two types of breast carcinoma in situ: ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS). DCIS is a noninvasive condition in which abnormal cells are found in the lining of a breast duct, a tube that carries milk to the nipple. The abnormal cells have not spread outside the duct to other tissues in the breast. In some cases, DCIS may become invasive cancer and spread to other tissues, although it is not known how to predict which lesions will become invasive cancer. LCIS is a condition in which abnormal cells are found in the breast lobules, small sections of tissue involved with making milk. This condition seldom becomes invasive cancer; however, having LCIS in one breast increases the risk of developing breast cancer in either breast.

breast density

Describes the relative amount of different tissues present in the breast. A dense breast has less fat than glandular and connective tissue. Mammogram films of breasts with higher density are harder to read and interpret than those of less-dense breasts.

breast duct endoscopy

A method used to examine the lining of the breast ducts to look for abnormal tissue. A very thin, flexible, lighted tube attached to a camera is inserted through the nipple, and threaded into the breast ducts deep in the breast. Tissue and fluid samples may be removed during the procedure.

breast duct

Also called milk duct. A thin tube in the breast that carries milk from the breast lobules to the nipple.

breast lobe

A section of the breast that contains the lobules, the glands that make milk.

breast lobule

A small part of a lobe in the breast. A breast lobule is a gland that makes milk.

breast reconstruction

Surgery to rebuild the shape of the breast after a mastectomy.

breast self-exam

Also called BSE. An exam by a woman of her breasts to check for lumps or other changes.

breast-conserving surgery

Also called breast-sparing surgery. A surgery to remove the breast cancer but not the breast itself. Types of breast-conserving surgery include lumpectomy (removal of the lump), quadrantectomy (removal of one quarter, or quadrant, of the breast), and segmental mastectomy (removal of the cancer as well as some of the breast tissue around the tumor, and the lining over the chest muscles below the tumor).

Brief Pain Inventory

A questionnaire used to measure pain.