Breast Health Glossary

a b c d e f g h i l m n o p r s t w
  • ABMT -

    See autologous bone marrow transplant.

  • Abscess -

    An accumulation of pus, that is infected and that was caused by an infection.

  • Acetaldehyde -

    A known carcinogen formed when alcohol is metabolized. It is a toxic substance that can cause mistakes in the DNA.

  • Acute -

    Occurring suddenly or in a short space of time, as opposed to chronic.

  • Adenocarcinoma -

    Cancer that is formed from glandular tissue, including breast cancer.

  • Adipose Tissue -

    Fatty tissue

  • Alopecia -

    The medical term for the hair loss that accompanies cancer treatment. Often a side effect of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

  • Alternative therapy -

    A therapy that is not a proven standard therapy. These therapies can be dangerous and should be consulted with a health care provider before treatment.

  • Amenorrhea -

    The ceasing of menstruation, usually as a result of chemotherapy.

  • Analgesic -

    A general term for a pain-relieving drug.

  • Anatomy -

    The study of the bodily structures and internal organs.

  • Androgen -

    Any male hormone. The most commonly known is testosterone. Sometimes used in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer.

  • Anemia -

    A lowered red-blood-cell count, which is often the result of chemotherapy. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, weakness, loss of energy, and skin pallor.

  • Antibiotic -

    Medicines that help stop infections caused from bacteria.

  • Antiestrogen -

    A substance, e.g., tamoxifen that bind with estrogen receptors to prevent tumor growth in cases of hormone-sensitive cancer.

  • Antigen -

    A substance that causes the immune system to produce antibodies and recognize it as foreign to the body.

  • Areola -

    The pigmented skin surrounding the nipple.

  • Aromatase Inhibitors -

    Drugs that inhibit the enzyme aromatase, which regulates estrogen production in the adrenal glands. An example is anastrozole (Arimidex).

  • Aspiration -

    Drawing fluid and/or cells into a hollow hypodermic needle, usually done for testing.

  • Asymptomatic -

    Without symptoms

  • Atrophy -

    Tissue in the body wastes away or breaks down.

  • Atypical cell -

    An abnormal cell

  • Augmented -

    Something that is added, such as an augmented breast- implants added to the breast.

  • Axillary -

    Related to the armpit.

  • Axillary Dissection -

    A diagnostic procedure involving removal or sampling of the axillary lymph nodes in the armpit. It is performed during breast cancer surgery to determine the Stage of the disease.

  • Benign -

    Not harmful; not cancerous (referring to a cell or mass).

  • Benign -

    Not harmful; not cancerous (referring to a cell or mass).

  • Bilateral -

    On both sides.

  • Biomarkers -

    A distinct biochemical, genetic, or molecular characteristic or substance that is an indicator of a particular biological condition or process.

  • Biopsy -

    The removal and examination of tissue from a living body to discover the presence, cause, or extent of a disease.

  • Brain Metastasis -

    Spread of cancer to the brain, another site of metastatic breast cancer. Symptoms may include headaches, visual disturbances, vomiting, seizures, loss of balance and other neurological signs. Diagnosed through CT Scans and MRI, and most often treated with radiation therapy.

  • BRCA1 -

    A gene which, when damaged or mutated, can put a person at a greater risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.

  • BRCA2 -

    A gene which, when damaged or mutated, may put a woman at a greater risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. This gene is also thought to raise the risk for breast cancer in men.

  • Breast Calcifications -

    Small spots of calcium in the breasts that appear on mammograms and may indicate signs of cancer in a small number of cases.

  • Breast implants -

    A saline or silicone filled sac used during plastic surgery to enlarge or restore the shape of the breast.

  • Breast Reconstruction -

    The creation of an artificial breast performed by a plastic surgeon.

  • Carcinogen -

    A cancer producing substance.

  • Chemoembolization -

    The process by which chemotherapy drugs are infused directly into the area where the tumor is.

  • Chemotherapy -

    Treatment with drugs to destroy or slow down the growth of cancer cells. Often referred to as systematic treatment, because it acts throughout the body, as opposed to localized treatments, like surgery or radiation.

  • Chronically -

    In a persistent and recurring way.

  • Clinical Trial -

    Human studies that are used to test new drugs or treatment and compare them to current standard treatments.

  • Colostrum -

    A yellowish liquid, especially rich in immune factors, secreted by the mammary gland of female mammals a few days before and after giving birth.

  • Combined Hormone Replacement Therapy -

    Therapy that introduces synthetic progesterone and estrogen into the body after it has stopped making its own because of natural or induced menopause. HRT relieves the symptoms of menopause, but may also increase risks for developing breast cancer.

  • Conceive -

    To become pregnant with a child.

  • Cyclically -

    A persistent and recurring way.

  • Cyst -

    A sac of fluid that can accumulate anywhere in the body. Although it may cause discomfort or pain, it is harmless.

  • Cytology -

    The study of cells.

  • Cytotoxic -

    A substance that causes cells to die, such as chemotherapy drugs.

  • Differentiation -

    The process by which cells mature so they can carry out the jobs they were intended to do. Cancer cells are less differentiated than normal cells.

  • Dimpling -

    A depression or wrinkle of the skin that may be a visual sign of breast cancer.

  • DNA -

    The part of every cell that carries out genetic information on cell growth, division, and function.

  • Drug Resistance -

    Occurs when cancer cells are insensitive to cancer drugs, either initially or as a result of prior treatment.

  • Engorge -

    Cause to swell with fluid.

  • Enzyme -

    A substance produced by a living organism which causes a specific biochemical reaction.

  • Epidemiological -

    The study, assessment, and analysis of public health concerns in a given population; the tracking of patterns and effects of diseases.

  • Estrogen -

    A female sex hormone that is primarily produced by the ovaries. Its primary function is to regulate the menstrual cycle and assist in the production of secondary sex characteristics such as breasts. It may even play a role in the production of cancer cells in the breast tissue.

  • Estrogen Dependent -

    A tumor that grows, or grows more rapidly, in the presence of estrogen. Considered a positive indicator, as it permits hormonal treatment for control of the tumor, thus increasing options for the treatment.

  • Excisional biopsy -

    The removal of an entire lump, usually with some surrounding tissue.

  • False-negative -

    A test result that indicates that a person does not have a disease when the person does have that disease.

  • False-positive -

    A test result that indicates that a person has a disease when the person does not have that disease.

  • Fibroadenoma -

    A fibrous benign breast tumor that is common in younger women.

  • Gene -

    A sequence in the DNA which can be passed down from parent to child. Genes helps determine physical and functional traits for the body.

  • Genetic -

    Inherited characteristics.

  • Gland -

    An organ in the human or animal body which releases particular chemical substances for use in the body or for discharge into the surroundings.

  • Gynecomastia -

    When a breast tissue in a man or boy becomes swollen.

  • HER2/Neu -

    This oncoprotein is present in very small amounts on the outer surface of normal breast cells. HER stimulates cell growth, and breast cancer cells that produce too much of this protein tend to be more aggressive.

  • Hormone -

    A chemical substance produced in the body that controls and regulates the activity of certain cells or organs.

  • Hyperplasia -

    Excessive cell growth.

  • Immunosuppressed -

    A state in which the immune system experiences lowered resistance to disease. It is often a result of certain infections or chemotherapy treatments.

  • Immunotherapy -

    Treatments that attempt to use the body’s own defenses to control the cancer. Also known as immunomodulation.

  • In Utero -

    In the womb or uterus.

  • Incisional biopsy -

    Removing a piece of the lump.

  • Inflammatory Breast Cancer -

    An aggressive form of breast cancer, occurring in about one percent of all diagnoses, which rapidly spreads into the lymphatic channels in the breast, causing the tissue to appear red and swollen. Symptoms often resemble a rash or infection.

  • Intrauterine Device -

    IUD stands for intrauterine device. It is a T shaped object that is inserted inside the uterus to prevent pregnancy.

  • Invasive Cancer -

    Cancer that has spread beyond the layer of tissue in which it developed and is growing into surrounding, healthy tissues.

  • Invasive cancer -

    Cancer that has grown past its starting area into adjacent tissues.

  • Involution -

    The shrinking of an organ in old age.

  • Lactation -

    The release of breast milk from the mammary glands.

  • Lesions -

    A general term indicating a change in body tissue, often used as a synonym for tumors.

  • Ligaments of Cooper -

    The connective tissue that shapes and supports the breast.

  • Lobules -

    The place within the breast where milk is manufactured in the breast.

  • Lumpectomy -

    Surgical removal of the breast lump and its surrounding tissue.

  • Lymph Nodes -

    Small, bean-shaped collections of immune tissue that filter out cell fluid and bacteria that may be circulating in the body. They help fight infections and play a role in fighting cancer.

  • Lymphatic System -

    This collection of tissues and organs helps rid the body of excess fluid and it plays a major role in the immune response to harmful substances.

  • Lymphedema -

    A condition that is caused by damage to the lymphatic system’s capacity to move lymphatic fluid, often a result from having the axillary lymph nodes sampled or removed at the time of lumpectomy or mastectomy, or having had radiation to the axillary area. Symptoms include the hand, arm and tissues of the upper chest becoming swollen and painful. While it can be controlled with the use of compression sleeves and a massage technique called manual lymphatic drainage, it cannot be cured. Lymphedema can also occur in the feet and legs as a result of node removal in the groin or pelvic area.

  • Malignant -


  • Mammary Gland -

    Milk producing structure found in women.

  • Mammograms -

    A low dose x-ray picture of the breast that allows a doctor to view glandular tissue and determine the presence of cancer.

  • Mastalgia -

    Breast pain.

  • Mastectomy -

    An operation removing all or part of the breast.

  • Mastitis -

    Breast infection or inflammation.

  • Menarche -

    The first occurrence of menstruation.

  • Menopause -

    The end of a woman’s menstrual cycles, defined as 12 consecutive months of no menstrual periods.

  • Menses -

    Menstrual flow.

  • Metabolize -

    To change one substance into another form that can be used in the body.

  • Metastasis -

    Cancer cells break away from where they first formed (primary cancer), travel through the blood or lymph system, and form new tumors (metastatic tumors) in other organs of the body.

  • Montgomery Glands -

    Combination of milk glands and sebaceous (oil) glands on the areola.

  • Mortality Rate -

    The measure of the number of deaths in a particular population.

  • Multicentric Breast Cancer -

    Breast cancer that occurs in a number of areas of the breast tissue.

  • Multicentric breast cancer -

    Breast cancer that occurs in a number of areas of the breast tissue.

  • Necrosis -

    Dead tissue

  • Neoadjuvant -

    Utilizing drugs, radiation therapy, or other means of supplemental treatment before cancer surgery or other primary cancer treatment.

  • Nodularity -

    The normal “lumpy” texture of breast tissue that is made up of a combination of glandular, adipose, and fibrous structures.

  • Oncogene -

    Genes responsible for the uncontrolled cell growth and multiplication

  • Oncologist -

    A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

  • Oral Contraceptives -

    A hormonal pill, taken by mouth, used to prevent pregnancy.

  • Ovaries -

    The female reproductive organs in which ova or eggs and hormones are produced.

  • Paget’s Disease -

    A rare form of breast cancer that begins in the milk ducts and spreads to the skin of the nipple. About three percent of breast cancer patients have this form of the disease.

  • Pathologist -

    A doctor who specializes in examining tissues and cellular changes.

  • Pathology -

    The science of the causes and effects of diseases, especially the laboratory examination of tissue samples for diagnostic purposes.

  • Perimenopause -

    The period of a woman's life shortly before the occurrence of menopause, the length varies among women.

  • Physiological -

    Relating to the way in which a living organism or bodily part functions.

  • Predispose -

    To make susceptible.

  • Prenatal -

    Before birth.

  • Primary Breast Cancer -

    Occurs in the breast, the site from which metastatic or secondary cancer can spread.

  • Progesterone -

    A hormone that stimulates the uterus to prepare for pregnancy, produced mainly by the ovaries. Progesterone may play a role in certain breast cancers.

  • Progestin -

    A synthetic hormone that maintains pregnancy and prevents further ovulation during pregnancy.

  • Prognosis -

    The expected or likely outcome of a disease, usually based on a statistical analysis of large groups of patients.

  • Proliferation Rate -

    Measures the increasing number of normal cells that grow and divide.

  • Proprioceptor -

    A receptor located in subcutaneous tissues, like muscles, tendons, and joints, that respond to stimuli produced within the body.

  • Prosthesis -

    Artificial breast that can be worn under clothing after a mastectomy.

  • Puberty -

    The period of becoming first capable of reproducing sexually marked by maturing of the genital organs, development of secondary sex characteristics, and in humans the first occurrence of menstruation in the female.

  • Punch biopsy -

    A biopsy that punches a small hole in the skin.

  • Radiation Oncologist -

    A physician who specializes in the treatment of cancer using high energy x-rays. A radiologist, by contrast, is expert in the diagnosis of diseases through the use of x-rays.

  • Recurrence -

    The reappearance of the disease after it has been treated. In breast cancer, recurrence following primary breast cancer can be local (in the same place), regional (in surrounding tissue) or metastatic (in some other part of the body).

  • Regress -

    To return to a former, less developed stage.

  • Regression -

    To decrease or return to a previous state.

  • Remission -

    A decrease or disappearance in the signs and symptoms of cancer for any period of time. In clinical trials, a partial remission (PR) means a decrease in ob­served illness by at least 50 percent, and complete remission (CR) means no measurable evidence of cancer is present in the body.

  • Retinoids -

    Substances such as vitamin A and synthetic compounds similar to vitamin A that induce cell differentiation in cancer treatment. Also referred to as retinoic acid.

  • Risk Factors -

    Anything that increases or decreases a person’s chance of developing a disease.

  • Sarcoma -

    Cancer that begins in the connective tissue

  • Secrete -

    To produce, discharge or give off.

  • Side Effect -

    A secondary and undesired result of treatment that can be painful, unpleasant or potentially harmful.

  • Staging -

    The process of determining whether cancer has spread and, if so, how far. Although there is more than one system for staging, the TNM system provides three important pieces of information: T - referring to the size of the Tumor, N - describing how far the cancer has spread to nearby Nodes and M - showing whether the cancer has spread or Metastasized to other organs of the body. Letters or numbers after the T, N, and M provide a patient with more details about each of these factors. The TNM descriptions can also be grouped together into Stages labeled with Roman numerals. In general, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. The higher the number, the more serious the cancer is.

  • Stem Cells -

    Cells from which all blood cells develop.

  • Stereotactic Radiosurgery -

    Focused, multiple low-intensity beams of radiation programmed to converge on a tumor site in the brain that may be inaccessible to surgery. Also referred to as “gamma knife” surgery.

  • Subareolar Abscess -

    Glands under the nipple that become infected.

  • Susceptibility -

    The state or fact of being likely or liable to be influenced or harmed by a particular thing.

  • Systemic Treatment -

    A treatment like chemotherapy or hormonal therapy that affects the whole body or system, as opposed to localized treatment, such as surgery or radiation.

  • Tamoxifen -

    A drug that blocks estrogen from affecting organs, such as the breast.

  • Tamoxifen -

    A drug that blocks estrogen from affecting the organs, such as the breast

  • Terminal -

    A term used to describe far-advanced metastatic disease where there is a very limited time before death anticipated.

  • Thelarche -

    Breast development before the onset of puberty.

  • Tumor -

    A mass of cells that can be benign or malignant.

  • Tumor Board -

    A hospital-based panel of medical experts that makes treatment recommendations in difficult cases.

  • Tumor Marker -

    One of several substances in the body that usually increases with tumor growth and decreases with tumor regression. Examples for breast cancer are CEA and CA 27-29 or CA 15-3.

  • Tumor-suppresser Gene -

    One of a number of genes responsible for controlling cell growth in the body. If damaged or mutated this can lead to cancer.

  • Two-cut biopsy -

    A needle biopsy that removes a small core from the lump.

  • Wean -

    To cause a baby to stop feeding on a mother's breast milk and begin eating other foods.