9 cancer-related words and what they mean


Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer knows first-hand the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions that follow. It can be even more difficult to absorb the news while trying to understand the medical terminology your healthcare provider is using.
While we hope you never have to hear the words “you have cancer,” we're here to help you understand the terms you may hear throughout your diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan.
Here are nine common and generally used cancer-related words and what they mean.

  1. Malignant
    A tumor is a growth of cells in the body. If a tumor is malignant, that means it is cancerous. Malignant cells are capable of spreading to other parts of the body. A benign tumor is slow-growing, non-malignant (or cancerous) and does not spread to other tissues in the body.
  2. Metastasis
    Cancer that has spread from one part of the body to another part of the body. Cancer that first begins in the kidney but metastasizes to the pancreas is still considered kidney cancer, even though it has spread from its primary site to another part of the body.
  3. Lymph nodes
    Lymph nodes are part of the body’s immune system and often one of the earliest sites of cancer spread. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, your provider may remove one or more lymph nodes and examine them to determine if the cancer has begun to spread.
  4. Biopsy
    If your provider suspects cancer or you have been diagnosed with cancer, they will remove sample tissue and examine it for the presence of cancer cells. A biopsy gives your healthcare providers a close look at what’s going on inside the cells and can help guide treatment decisions.
  5. Chemotherapy
    A common form of cancer treatment and a general term given to any therapy in which cancer-killing drugs are administered. Chemotherapy drugs are designed to target cancer cells, but they can also affect other non-cancer cells, which may cause side effects such as hair loss, blood disorders and damage to the nervous system.
  6. Immunotherapy
    A type of cancer treatment that uses components of the immune system to help the body fight cancer. Immunotherapies stimulate the immune system, training it to recognize and eliminate cancer cells.
  7. Radiation
    One of the most common forms of cancer treatment, in which high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays or other sources is used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy is intended to destroy cancer cells, thus preventing them from growing or reproducing.
  8. Adjuvant therapy
    Any treatment given after the primary treatment is known as adjuvant therapy. For example, in many cases, the primary treatment may be surgery, followed by adjuvant therapies like radiation, chemotherapy or immunotherapy. The purpose of adjuvant therapy is to destroy any cancer cells left behind after primary treatment.
  9. Remission
    This is the goal of any cancer treatment: the decrease or disappearance of cancer. A patient can be in remission but not be cured. If a patient remains in complete remission for a certain period of time (which varies depending on the type of cancer), then the patient is considered cured.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, don't hesitate to ask your provider for clarification or further explanation of anything you don’t understand. Having a clear grasp on your diagnosis and treatment plan can help you manage your expectations and may help reduce some of the stress and anxiety that accompanies a cancer diagnosis.
The Goshen Center for Cancer Care provides expert cancer care to treat the whole person, not just the cancer. Contact our oncology information specialists to learn more about our approach to treating the whole you at (888) 492-4673.