A person’s chance of developing a certain disease over a certain time period. The absolute risk of a disease is estimated by looking at a large group of people similar in some way (in terms of age, for example) and counting the number of people in this group who develop the disease over the specified time period. For example, if we followed 100,000 women between the ages of 30 and 34 for one year, about 25 would develop breast cancer. This means the one-year absolute risk of breast cancer for a 30- to 34-year-old woman is 25 per 100,000 women (1 per 4,000 women).
Use of very thin needles inserted at precise points on the body that may help control pain and other side effects of treatment or breast cancer itself. It is a type of integrative or complementary therapy.
Adjuvant (Systemic) Therapy
Treatment given in addition to surgery and radiation to treat breast cancer that may have spread to other parts of the body. It may include chemotherapy, targeted therapy and/or hormone therapy.
Any therapy used instead of standard medical treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and hormone therapy. Alternative therapies are different from integrative and complementary therapies, which are used in addition to standard treatments. Alternative therapies have not been shown to be effective in treating breast cancer, so it is not safe to use them.
The absence or stopping of menstrual periods.
Aneuploid (DNA Ploidy)
The presence of an abnormal number of chromosomes in cancer cells.
The growth of new blood vessels that cells need to grow.
A protein made by white blood cells that is part of the body’s immune system. Each antibody binds to a certain antigen (foreign substance, such as bacteria) and helps the body fight the antigen.
A drug containing an antibody that is specially made to target certain cancer cells.
An agent that counteracts carcinogens (cancer causing agents).
A substance that causes the body to make an immune response. This immune response often involves making antibodies.
A substance that protects the body from damage by oxidizing agents. Oxidizing agents are always present in the body and are often beneficial. However, when large amounts of oxidants are present in cells, they can cause damage, especially to DNA. This can lead to abnormal cell growth. Antioxidants include beta-carotene and vitamins A, C and E.
A normal cell process in which a genetically programmed series of events leads to the death of a cell. Cancer cells may block apoptosis.
The darkly shaded circle of skin surrounding the nipple.
Hormone therapy drugs that lower estrogen levels in the body by blocking aromatase, an enzyme that converts other hormones into estrogen. Aromatase inhibitors are used to treat postmenopausal women with hormone-receptor positive breast cancer.
To remove fluid and a small number of cells.
A benign (not cancer) breast condition where breast cells are growing rapidly (proliferating). The proliferating cells look abnormal under a microscope. Although atypical hyperplasia is not breast cancer, it increases the risk of breast cancer.
The underarm area.
Axillary Dissection (Axillary Sampling)
Surgical procedure to remove some or all of the lymph nodes from the underarm area so that the nodes can be examined under a microscope to check whether or not cancer cells are present.
Axillary Lymph Nodes
The lymph nodes in the underarm area.
Not cancerous. Does not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.
Benign Breast Conditions (Benign Breast Disease)
Noncancerous conditions of the breast that can result in lumps or other abnormalities. Examples include cysts and fibroadenomas.
Benign Phyllodes Tumor
A rare benign (not cancer) breast condition similar to a fibroadenoma. A lump may be felt, but is usually painless.
Bilateral Prophylactic Mastectomy
Surgery where both breasts are removed to prevent breast cancer from developing.
Bioimpedance (Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis)
A method of measuring the amount of fluid in body tissues.
A therapy that targets something specific to the biology of the cancer cell, as opposed to chemotherapy, which attacks all rapidly dividing cells. Often used to describe therapies that use the immune system to fight cancer (immunotherapy). Trastuzumab (Herceptin) is an example of a biological or targeted therapy agent.
A substance found in blood, other body fluids or tissues that can be measured and is a sign of disease or another process in the body (normal or abnormal). It also may be used to see how well the body responds to a treatment for a disease.
Removal of tissue to be tested for cancer cells.
Drugs used to strengthen bones and decrease the rate of bone fractures and pain due to breast cancer metastases to the bone.
A test done to check for signs of cancer in the bones. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into the bloodstream. It collects in the bones, especially abnormal areas, and is detected by a scanner. Bone scans can show cancer as well as benign bone diseases (like arthritis).
BRCA1/BRCA2 Genes (BReast CAncer genes)
Genes that help limit cell growth. A mutation (change) in one of these genes increases a person’s risk of breast, ovarian and certain other cancers.
An uncontrolled growth of abnormal breast cells.
Breast Conserving Surgery (see Lumpectomy)
A measure used to describe the relative amounts of fat and tissue in the breasts as seen on a mammogram.
Surgery to restore the look and feel of the breast after mastectomy.
Breast Self-Examination (BSE) or Self Breast Exam (SBE)
A method that may help women become familiar with the normal look and feel of their breasts. BSE is not recommended as a breast cancer screening tool because it has not been shown to decrease breast cancer death.
Breast Tomosynthesis (3D Digital Mammography, Digital Tomosynthesis)
A tool that uses a digital mammography machine to take multiple two dimensional (2D) X-ray images of the breast. Computer software combines the multiple 2D images into a three dimensional image. Breast tomosynthesis is not a standard breast cancer screening tool at this time.
Deposits of calcium in the breast that appear as bright, white spots on a mammogram. Most calcifications are not cancer. However, tight clusters or lines of tiny calcifications (called microcalcifications) can be a sign of breast cancer.
Carcinoma in Situ(in Situ Carcinoma)
Condition where abnormal cells are found in the milk ducts or lobules of the breast, but not in the surrounding breast tissue. In situ means “in place
A drug or combination of drugs that kills cancer cells in various ways.
Clinical Breast Examination (CBE)
A physical exam done by a health care provider to check the look and feel of the breasts and underarm for any changes or abnormalities (such as lumps).
Complementary Therapies (Integrative Therapies)
Therapies (such as acupuncture or massage) used in addition to standard medical treatments. Complementary therapies are not used to treat cancer, but they may help improve quality of life and relieve some side effects of treatment or the cancer itself. When complementary therapies are combined with standard medical care, they are often called integrative therapies.
Core Needle Biopsy
A needle biopsy that uses a hollow needle to remove samples of tissue from an abnormal area in the breast.
CT Scan (Computerized Tomography Scan, Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT) Scan)
A series of pictures created by a computer linked to an X-ray machine. The scan gives detailed internal images of the body.
The sum of a person’s chances of developing a disease (like breast cancer) over the course of a lifetime (usually defined as birth up to age 85). For example, the cumulative (lifetime) risk of breast cancer for women is about 1 in 8 (or about 12 percent). This means for every 8 women, one will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime (up to age 85).
A fluid-filled sac.
A pathologist who specializes in looking at individual cells. A cytopathologist is needed to interpret the results of fine needle aspiration.
A rare benign (not cancer) breast condition that consists of small hard masses in the breast. It occurs most often in women with insulin-dependent (type 1) diabetes.
A mammogram used to check symptoms of breast cancer (such as a lump) or an abnormal finding noted on a screening mammogram or clinical breast exam. It involves two or more X-ray views of the breast.
Distant Recurrence (see Metastases)
DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid)
The information contained in a gene.
Chemotherapy given over a shorter (more condensed) time period compared to standard therapy. The frequency of treatment sessions is increased, so the length of the treatment period is shortened.
Lowering the stage of a cancer from its original stage.
Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS, Intraductal Carcinoma)
A non-invasive breast cancer that begins in the milk ducts of the breast, but has not invaded nearby breast tissue. Also called stage 0 or pre-invasive breast carcinoma.
Early Breast Cancer
Cancer that is contained in the breast or has only spread to lymph nodes in the underarm area. This term often describes stage I and stage II breast cancer.
Excess fluid in body tissues that causes swelling.
A protein that speeds up biologic reactions in the body.
The most biologically active, naturally occurring estrogen in women.
A female hormone produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands that is important to reproduction. Some cancers need estrogen to grow.
Specific proteins in cells that estrogen hormones attach to. A high number of estrogen receptors on a breast cancer cell often means the cancer cell needs estrogen to grow.
The cause(s) of a disease.
Surgical procedure that removes the entire abnormal area (plus some surrounding normal tissue) from the breast.
A test result that incorrectly reports a person is disease-free when she/he actually has the disease.
A test result that incorrectly reports a person has a disease when she/he does not have the disease.
A benign (not cancer) fibrous tumor that may occur at any age, but is more common in young adulthood.
Fibrocystic Condition (Fibrocystic Changes)
A general term used to describe a benign (not cancer) breast condition that may cause painful cysts or lumpy breasts.
Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA, Fine Needle Biopsy)
A biopsy procedure that uses a thin, hollow needle to remove a sample of cells from the abnormal area of the breast..
The initial (first) therapy used in a person’s cancer treatment.
A laboratory test done on tumor tissue to measure the growth rate of the cancer cells and to check if the cells have too much DNA.
Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization (FISH)
A laboratory test done on breast tumor tissue to find out the number of copies of the HER2/neu gene contained in the cancer cells.
Process where a portion of tissue from a surgical biopsy is frozen so a thin slice can be studied to check for cancer. Frozen section results are only preliminary and always need to be confirmed by other methods.
A milk-filled cyst.
Any change in the DNA (the information contained in a gene) of a cell. Gene mutations can be harmful, beneficial or have no effect..
Genetic Susceptibility (Genetic Predisposition)
An increased likelihood or chance of developing a disease due to specific changes in a person’s genes passed on from either parent.
Analyzing DNA to look for a gene mutation that may show an increased risk for developing a specific disease.
Glandular Tissue (in the breast)
The tissue in the breast that includes the milk ducts and lobules.
Specific proteins on cells that hormones attach to. A high number of hormone receptors on a breast cancer cell often means the cancer cell needs the hormone to grow.
Hormone Therapy (Endocrine Therapy, Endocrine Manipulation)
Treatment that works by keeping cancer cells with hormone receptors from getting the hormones they need to grow.
Hyperplasia (Usual and Atypical Hyperplasia)
A benign (not cancer) breast condition where breast cells are growing rapidly (proliferating). Although hyperplasia is not breast cancer, it increases the risk of breast cancer. In usual hyperplasia, the proliferating cells look normal under a microscope. In atypical hyperplasia, the proliferating cells look abnormal.
Therapies that use the immune system to fight cancer. These therapies target something specific to the biology of the cancer cell, as opposed to chemotherapy, which attacks all rapidly dividing cells.
Implant (Breast Implant)
An “envelope” containing silicone, saline or both, that is used to restore the breast form after a mastectomy (or for other cosmetic reasons).
Surgical biopsy that removes only part of the tumor.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)
A rare and aggressive form of invasive breast cancer. Its main symptoms are swelling (inflammation) and redness of the breast. The skin on the breast may look dimpled, like the skin of an orange, and may be warm to the touch.
A port is a type of central venous catheter. Ports are placed under the skin of the chest or arm through surgery. Infusaport is a brand of port.
An excess of cells growing within the milk ducts of the breast.
Intraductal Papilloma (Ductal Papilloma)
Small, benign (not cancer) growths that begin in the ducts of the breast and usually cannot be felt. Symptoms include a bloody or clear nipple discharge.
Invasive Breast Cancer
Cancer that has spread from the original location (milk ducts or lobules) into the surrounding breast tissue and possibly into the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. Invasive ductal cancer begins in the milk ducts. Invasive lobular cancer begins in the lobules of the breast.
Late-Stage Cancer (see Metastatic Breast Cancer)
The chance of developing a disease (like breast cancer) over the course of a lifetime (usually defined as birth up to age 85). For example, the lifetime risk of breast cancer for women is 1 in 8 (or about 12 percent). This means for every 8 women, one will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime (up to age 85).
Lobular Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS, Lobular Neoplasia in Situ)
A condition where abnormal cells grow in the lobules of the breast. LCIS increases the risk of breast cancer.
Lobular Neoplasia in Situ (see Lobular Carcinoma in Situ)
Ball-shaped sacs in the breast that produce milk.
Treatment that focuses on getting rid of the cancer from a certain (local) area. In breast cancer, the local area includes the breast, the chest wall and lymph nodes in the underarm area (axillary nodes). Local treatment for breast cancer includes surgery with or without radiation therapy.
Localized Breast Cancer
Cancer that is contained in the breast and has not spread to nearby tissue, lymph nodes or other organs.
Locally Advanced Breast Cancer (Stage III Breast Cancer)
Cancer that has spread beyond the breast to the skin or chest wall, but not to distant organs like the lungs or liver. It also refers to a tumor that is larger than five centimeters (about two inches) in size.
Local Recurrence (Recurrence)
The return of cancer to the same breast or to the same side chest wall.
Any mass in the breast or elsewhere in the body.
Lumpectomy (Breast Conserving Surgery)
Surgery that removes only part of the breast—the part containing and closely surrounding the tumor.
Lymph Nodes (Lymph Glands)
Small groups of immune cells that act as filters for the lymphatic system. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the underarms, groin, neck, chest and abdomen.
Swelling due to poor draining of lymph fluid that can occur after surgery to remove lymph nodes or after radiation therapy to the area. Most often occurs in the upper limbs (arm, hands or fingers), but can occur in other parts of the body.
Mammary Duct Ectasia
A benign (not cancer) breast condition resulting from inflammation (swelling) and enlargement of the ducts behind the nipple. Often there are no symptoms, but calcifications seen on a mammogram may point to its presence
Surgical removal of the breast. The exact procedure depends on the diagnosis. See Total Mastectomy and Modified Radical Mastectomy.
An inflammation (swelling) of the breast usually occurring during breastfeeding. Symptoms include pain, nipple discharge, fever, redness and hardness over an area of the breast.
A physician specializing in the treatment of cancer using chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy.
Spread of cancer to other organs through the lymphatic and/or circulatory system.
Small, clustered deposits of calcium in the breast that may be seen on a mammogram. These may or may not be related to breast cancer.
Surgery that involves connecting small blood vessels.
Modified Radical Mastectomy
Surgical removal of the breast, the lining of the chest muscles and some of the lymph nodes in the underarm area. Used to treat early and locally advanced breast cancer.
Multifocal Tumors (Multicentric Tumors)
One or more tumors that develop from the original breast tumor.
Use of two or more treatment methods (such as surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy) in combination or one after the other to get the best results.
Mutation (Gene Mutation)
Any change in the DNA (the information contained in a gene) of a cell. Gene mutations can be harmful, beneficial or have no effect.
Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy (Induction Chemotherapy, Primary Chemotherapy, Preoperative Chemotherapy)
Chemotherapy used as a first treatment. Often used for large or locally-advanced cancers to shrink tumors before surgery.
Neoadjuvant Hormone Therapy
Hormone therapy used as a first treatment. Often used for large or locally-advanced cancers to shrink tumors before surgery.
Neoadjuvant Therapy (Preoperative Therapy)
Chemotherapy or hormone therapy used as a first treatment. Often used for large or locally-advanced cancers to shrink tumors before surgery.
Excess number of cells in a mass that can be either benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy (NSM)
A breast reconstruction procedure that removes the tumor and margins as well as the fat and other tissue in the breast, but leaves the nipple and areola intact.
Describes a breast lump or abnormal area that cannot be felt but can be seen on an imaging test (such as a mammogram).
Nuclear Medicine Imaging of the Breast (Molecular Breast Imaging)
A technique under study for use in the early detection of breast cancer. Nuclear medicine imaging uses short-term radioactive agents given through an IV. Cancer cells absorb these agents and can be imaged with a special camera. Nuclear medicine imaging is not a standard breast cancer screening tool. Breast-specific gamma imaging and scintimammography are types of nuclear medicine imaging.
Breast reduction surgery that is a combination of a traditional lumpectomy with a standard breast reduction.
Surgical removal of the ovaries.
Paget Disease of the Breast (Paget Disease of the Nipple)
A rare cancer in the skin of the nipple or in the skin closely surrounding the nipple that is usually, but not always, found with an underlying breast cancer.
Palliative Therapy (Palliative Care, Palliation)
Care focused on relieving or preventing symptoms (like pain) rather than treating disease.
Describes a breast lump or abnormal area that can be felt during a clinical breast exam.
A measure describing how much of the tumor is left in the breast and lymph nodes after neoadjuvant (before surgery) therapy. The pathologic response gives some information about prognosis. A complete pathologic response means there is no invasive cancer in the tissue removed during breast surgery.
The physician who uses a microscope to study the breast tissue and lymph nodes removed during biopsy or surgery and determines whether or not the cells contain cancer.
PET (Positron Emission Tomography)
A procedure where a short-term radioactive sugar is given through an IV so that a scanner can show which parts of the body are consuming more sugar. Cancer cells tend to consume more sugar than normal cells do. PET is sometimes used as part of breast cancer diagnosis or treatment, but is not used for breast cancer screening.
The study of the way genes affect a person’s response to drugs to help predict which drugs may offer him/her the most benefit.
A rare sarcoma (cancer of the soft tissue) in the breast.
Factors (such as hormone receptor status) that help guide treatment for a specific cancer case.
Rapidly growing and increasing in number.
Preventive surgery where one or both breasts are removed in order to prevent breast cancer. When both breasts are removed, the procedure is called bilateral prophylactic mastectomy.
Removal of a small circle of skin (with a special instrument called a punch or trephine) to be tested for cancer cells.
Surgery where one quadrant or 25 percent of the breast is removed. See Lumpectomy.
Radial Scars (Complex Sclerosing Lesions)
A benign (not cancer) breast condition with a core of connective tissue fibers. Ducts and lobules grow out from this core.
Radiation Therapy (Radiotherapy)
Treatment given by a radiation oncologist that uses targeted, high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.
Radical Mastectomy (Halsted Radical)
Surgical removal of the breast, chest muscles and underarm lymph nodes. Used only when the breast tumor has spread to the chest muscles.
Regional Lymph Nodes
In breast cancer, the axillary (in the underarm area) lymph nodes, infraclavicular (under the collarbone) lymph nodes, supraclavicular (above the collarbone) lymph nodes and internal mammary nodes. See Lymph Nodes.
The shrinking of a tumor.
Any factor—from a lifestyle choice (such as diet) to genetics to an environmental exposure (such as radiation)—that increases or decreases a person’s risk of developing a certain disease.
Small, benign (not cancer) breast lumps caused by enlarged lobules. The lumps may be felt and may be painful.
A test or procedure used to find cancer or a benign (not cancer) condition in a person who does not have any known problems or symptoms.
A test used to find early signs of breast cancer in a woman who does not have any known breast problems or symptoms.
Second Primary Tumor
A second breast cancer that develops in a different location from the first. This is different from a local recurrence, which is the return of the first breast cancer.
Sentinel Node Biopsy
The surgical removal and testing of the sentinel node(s) (first axillary node(s) in the underarm area filtering lymph fluid from the tumor site) to see if the node(s) contains cancer cells.
Sonogram (see Ultrasound)
Stage of Cancer (Cancer Stage)
A way to indicate the extent of the cancer within the body. The most widely used staging method for breast cancer is the TNM system, which uses Tumor size, lymph Node status and the absence or presence of Metastases to classify breast cancers.
Staging (Cancer Staging)
Doing tests to learn the extent of the cancer within the body (the cancer’s stage 0 to IV). Knowing a cancer’s stage helps determine what treatment is needed and how effective this treatment may be in getting rid of the disease and prolonging life.
Stereotactic Needle Biopsy
Core needle biopsy done with the use of stereotactic (three-dimensional) mammography guidance.
Three-dimensional mammography used to guide a needle biopsy.
Physician who performs any surgery, including surgical biopsies and other procedures related to breast cancer.
A physician specializing in the treatment of cancer using surgical procedures.
Systemic (Adjuvant) Treatment
Treatment given in addition to surgery and radiation to treat breast cancer that may have spread to other parts of the body. It may include chemotherapy, targeted therapy and/or hormone therapy.
Total Mastectomy (Simple Mastectomy)
Surgical removal of the breast but no other tissue or nodes. Used for the treatment of ductal carcinoma in situ and, in some cases, breast cancer recurrence.
An abnormal growth or mass of tissue that may be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Describes how closely cancer cells look like normal cells. Grade 1 tumors have cells that are slow-growing and look the most like normal cells. Grade 3 tumors have cells that are fast-growing and look very abnormal. Grade 2 tumors fall in between grade 1 and grade 3.
Tumor Marker (TM)
A substance found in blood that may be a sign of metastatic breast cancer. Tumor markers are found in both normal cells and cancer cells, but they are made in larger amounts by cancer cells. A tumor marker may help indicate metastatic breast cancer treatment activity. The term tumor marker may also be used more broadly to refer to characteristics of tumor cells such as hormone receptors.
Tumor Profiling (Gene Expression Profiling)
Tests that give information about thousands of genes in cancer cells. Specific genes (or combinations of genes) may give information useful in prognosis and in making treatment decisions.
Diagnostic test that uses sound waves to make images of tissues and organs. Tissues of different densities reflect sound waves differently.
A benign (not cancer) breast condition where breast cells are growing rapidly (proliferating). The proliferating cells look normal under a microscope. Although usual hyperplasia is not breast cancer, it increases the risk of breast cancer.
Radiation that, at low levels, can be used to make images of the inside of the body. For example, a mammogram is an X-ray image of the breast. At high levels of radiation, X-rays can be used in cancer treatment.
*Parts of this glossary were adapted from the National Cancer Institute’s Dictionary of Cancer Terms and the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Glossary.
**Glossary terms relating to radiation therapy adapted from the Joint Center for Radiation Therapy’s Glossary of Terms.