What words mean

It’s really important that you have the opportunity to get involved in discussions and decisions about your cancer and treatment. The A–Z list below gives you definitions for some of the more confusing terms you may encounter.

Alopecia: hair loss
Anaemia: a low number of red blood cells. A person with this condition is described as being ‘anaemic’
Anaesthetic: a deep sleep that you have during an operation, so you don’t feel any pain
Benign: non-cancerous
Biopsy: a small operation that involves removing a sample of your body tissue for examination and testing
Blood test: when a tiny sample of your blood is looked at to see how many red cells, white cells and platelets you have
Bone marrow: the spongy material found in the centre of bones that produces blood cells
Broviac: one or two lines inserted in a vein under anaesthetic. This is used for giving treatments and taking blood
Cancer: when the cells in your body become abnormal (bad) and continue to grow on their own, out of control
Cell: everyone’s body is made up of millions of tiny cells. They make different things our bodies need, like blood, muscle or bone
Chemotherapy: a mixture of medicines used to destroy cancer cells
CT scan (Computerised Tomography scan): a scan that takes a number of pictures from different angles to build up a 3D picture of the inside of your body 
Cytotoxic drugs: anti-cancer drugs
Diagnosis: using your symptoms, tests and investigations to work out the nature of your illness
Haemoglobin (Hb): a part of the red blood cell that contains iron and helps to carry oxygen around the body
Hickman line: a long plastic tube inserted into a large vein, usually in the neck, under anaesthetic. This is used for giving treatments and taking blood
Intravenous: delivering drugs or fluids directly into a vein
Leukaemia: a cancer of the blood cells
Lymphoma: a cancer of the lymphatic system (which contains the lymph nodes/glands that help fight infection and disease)
Malignant: cancerous. These abnormal/cancer cells are able to spread to other parts of the body if not treated
Metastases: the spread of cancer cells from the original site (primary) to other parts of the body (secondaries)
MRI scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan): a scan that uses magnets to build up a picture of the inside of your body. It doesn't hurt but can be quite noisy so you might be given some medicine to help you relax and lie still
Neutrophil: a type of white blood cell
Neutropenic: having a low number of neutrophils/white blood cells
Oncology: the study of cancer
PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography scan): a scan that shows up changes in your body tissue
Petechiae: small pin-prick bruises, from tiny blood vessels just beneath the skin
Platelets: tiny cells that help to clot the blood to prevent bleeding and bruising
Prognosis: a prediction of the outcome of the disease
Portacath: a device inserted under the skin near the armpit with a thin tube running to the main vein in the neck. This is used for giving treatments and taking blood
Protocol: your plan of treatment
Radiotherapy: the use of radiation treatment or high energy rays to destroy the cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells
Red blood cells: blood cells that carry oxygen around the body and also contain iron
Relapse: when the disease comes back after a period of time when symptoms had disappeared or decreased
Remission: a healthy state when all the abnormal cancer cells can no longer be detected
Side effect: something that may happen during your treatment, like feeling sick or your hair falling out
Surgery: having an operation
Transfusion: using a drip to deliver fluids or blood products into the vein
Thrombocytopenic: having a low number of platelets in the blood
Tumour: a growth of abnormal tissue that increases in size at a faster rate than normal tissue and serves no function
White blood cells: blood cells that help to fight off infections

Reviewed January 2015. Next planned review 2017.

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