Words to Know

aggressive

Describes a tumor or disease that forms, grows or spreads quickly. It may also describe treatment that is more severe or intense than usual.

AJCC staging system

A system developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer in which TNM is used to describe the extent of cancer in the body. T describes the size of the tumor and whether it has invaded nearby tissue. N describes whether cancer has traveled to nearby lymph nodes, and M describes whether cancer has metastasized (spread to distant parts of the body, such as the bone, liver, lungs or brain). Also called TNM staging system.

Alkeran

A chemotherapy medicine used in breast cancer, multiple myeloma and ovarian epithelial cancer. Alkeran is an alkylating medicine and is also called melphalan. Women should avoid becoming pregnant while taking this medicine.

alkylating agent

A type of medicine used in cancer treatment. It interferes with cell DNA and blocks cancer cell growth.

Allegra

Also called fexofenadine, Allegra is an antihistamine used to treat certain allergy symptoms by blocking a chemical released during an allergic response that causes itching, sneezing, runny nose, wheezing, and watery eyes. Antihistamines are given as pretreatment when using paclitaxel, a chemotherapy agent. Antihistamines can prevent hypersensitivity reactions with paclitaxel use, such as decreased blood pressure and impaired breathing.

allopathic medicine

Another term for 'mainstream medicine,' also called biomedicine, conventional medicine, orthodox medicine, and Western medicine. Allopathic medicine is the system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals treat symptoms and diseases using medicines, radiation, or surgery.

alopecia

The lack or loss of hair from areas of the body where hair is usually found. Alopecia can be a side effect of some cancer treatments, including doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and paclitaxel (Taxol). Some breast cancer medicines cause only thinning or partial hair loss, and others cause no hair loss at all.

amifostine

A medicine used as a chemoprotective agent to control some of the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

aminoglutethimide

A nonsteroidal aromatase inhibitor used to decrease the production of estrogen in women or testosterone in men and suppress the growth of tumors that need those sex hormones to grow. It is used in treatment of advanced breast cancer.

amitriptyline

Also called amitriptyline hydrochloride, and referred to by the brand names Elavil, Endep or Vanatrip. A tricyclic antidepressant medicine used to treat depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and pain. It is used to treat nerve pain following breast cancer treatment.

anabolic steroid

A type of steroid that is used in medicine to repair body tissues and to increase appetite and the growth of muscles. Anabolic steroids are made in the lab from testosterone, a male hormone, and are sometimes used to treat specific types of breast cancer.

analgesic

A medicine that reduces pain. Analgesics include aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), among others.

anaplastic

A term used to describe cancer cells that divide rapidly and have little or no resemblance to normal cells.

anastrozole

Brand name: Arimidex. An anticancer drug that is used to slow or stop estrogen production that hormone-sensitive tumors need to grow. It is a type of nonsteroidal aromatase inhibitor, and is used in the treatment of early-stage breast cancer.

ancillary test

In a clinical trial, a medical test on a participant that is not a part of the original study design.

anemia

A condition in which the number of red blood cells in the body is below healthy levels. Anemia can be a side effect of chemotherapy.

anesthesia

A loss of feeling or awareness caused by medicines or other substances. Anesthesia keeps a person from feeling pain during surgery or other procedures. Local anesthesia is a loss of feeling in one small area of the body. Regional anesthesia is a loss of feeling in a part of the body, such as an arm or leg. General anesthesia is a loss of feeling and a complete loss of awareness that feels like a very deep sleep.

anesthesiologist

A doctor who specializes in giving medicines or other agents to prevent or relieve pain during surgery or other procedures being done in the hospital.

angiogenesis

Blood vessel formation. Tumor angiogenesis is the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow. This is caused by the release of chemicals by the tumor.

angiogenesis inhibitor

A substance that may prevent the formation of blood vessels. In anticancer therapy, an angiogenesis inhibitor may prevent the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow.