Breast cancer can bring with it many medical terms that you may not have heard of. Here is an A-Z guide of common terms used to help navigate breast cancer treatment.
Active Treatment – This is the period after a diagnosis where patients receive treatment.
The treatment you receive during this time is called Adjuvant Treatment (e.g. hormone therapy, chemo or radiotherapy).
Alopecia – Hair loss caused by chemotherapy
Alternative Therapies/Complimentary Medicines – These can include everything from fish oil to St John’s Wort or homeopathic herbal remedies. It’s important you tell Dr Cheung if you take alternative remedies as they can interfere with traditional medical treatments.
Areola – The area around the nipple
Aromatase Inhibitors – These are hormonal drugs often prescribed after chemo, surgery or radiotherapy. They are used to treat women who have hormone receptor positive breast cancers.
Axilla – The armpit area often involved in breast cancer
Axillary Dissection – Removal of lymph nodes from the armpit to see if the breast cancer has spread or is contained
Benign – Non-cancerous
Biological Therapy/Immunotherapy – Therapy that targets something specific to the biology of a cancer cell, as opposed to chemotherapy, which attacks all rapidly dividing cells. This word is often used to describe therapies that use the immune system.
Breast Biopsy – Where cells or tissue from the body are removed via a fine needle to determine which cells are cancerous. Core Biopsy is usually performed as first choice, although sometimes, fine-needle is a quick way to sample breast tissue. Mammography may also be performed during a biopsy.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 – These are faults or mutations in genes that increase the chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer significantly in women, and also increase breast and other cancers such as prostate cancer risk in men.
Breast Conserving Surgery – Also known as lumpectomy, this is surgery to remove a small area of breast only, not the whole breast.
Breast Prostheses – Moulds placed in bra to look like real breasts
Carcinoma – Another word for cancer
Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs used to target and kill fast growing cancer cells, which tend to grow much more quickly than most of the body’s other cells.
Chemotherapy drugs work by damaging the RNA or DNA that instruct cells how to copy and divide. Therefore if cells can’t divide they die. The faster cancer cells divide, the more likely the chemo is working effectively and the tumour will shrink. Most early stage breast cancer patients will have 3 to 6 months of chemotherapy, and up chemo can be given commonly between once a week and once every three weeks. More advanced cancer patients may need more than six months of chemotherapy.
Co-Survivor – A person who gives support to someone diagnosed with breast cancer, from the time of diagnosis through treatment and beyond. Co-survivors may include family members, spouses or partners, friends, health care providers and colleagues.
Double Mastectomy – Removal of both breasts
Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) – Non-invasive breast cancer, confined to the ducts of the breast
Early Breast Cancer – Has not spread beyond the breast
Early Menopause – Menopause occurring under 45. This is often a side effect of breast cancer treatments.
Hormone Therapy – Hormone therapies reduce the amount of hormone in the body or stop it working.
Immediate Breast Reconstruction – A single stage cancer removal and breast reconstruction procedure done at the same time. Given the option, an overwhelming majority of patients (84%) choose immediate breast reconstruction.
Lobular Carcinoma in situ (LCIS) – Non-invasive breast cancer that is confined to the lobules of the breast.
Lymph Nodes – Glands in the armpit that drain lymph fluid and also “catch” cancer cells.
Lymphoedema – A condition that develops in about 1 in 5 breast cancer patients. Generally it develops post-surgically after lymph nodes are removed. This may cause swelling in the arm or hand, legs or trunk.
Lumpectomy – Breast Conserving surgery or lumpectomy, is when a small area of tissue is removed, not the whole breast.
Mastectomy – Removal of the whole breast
Medical Oncologist – Diagnoses and treats cancer with chemotherapy or hormonal therapy and targeted therapy, and in some cases is the main doctor in charge of your case.
METS (Metastatic Breast Cancer) – This is another name for secondary, advanced or stage 4 breast cancer.
Monoclonal Antibodies – Immune proteins that can locate and bind to cancer cells.
They can be used alone or they can be used to deliver drugs, toxins or radioactive material directly to the cancerous cells. Trastuzumab (Herceptin) is a good example of a monoclonal antibody.
Neoadjuvant Therapy – Treatment given before surgery (e.g. chemo, hormone therapy).
Although still only conservatively adopted by surgeons in Australia (12%) compared with the UK and US (30%), there is increasing evidence that giving neoadjuvant or preoperative chemotherapy to shrink a tumour before surgery has benefits. This approach increases the option of breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) and/or gives patients the option of immediate breast reconstruction and nipple-sparing mastectomy. After neoadjuvant chemotherapy, the need for post-mastectomy radiotherapy is reduced, improving the overall cosmetic outcome of immediate breast reconstruction.
Nipple Sparing Mastectomy – A skin-sparing mastectomy where the surgeon surgically removes the tumour, margins, fat and other tissue in the breast, but leaves the skin “envelope” including the nipple. Breast reconstruction is performed at the same time in one procedure.
Node-Negative (Lymph Node-Negative) – Cancer that has not spread to the lymph nodes
Node-Positive (Lymph Node-Positive) – Cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes
Oestrogen – A female hormone
PBS – The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, funded by the Federal Government, subsidises the cost of medications.
Progesterone – A female hormone
Preventative/Prophylactic Mastectomy – Surgery performed on high risk women with BRAC1 or BRAC2 genes, where breasts and ovaries are removed to prevent breast cancer from developing.
Radiologist – Reads pictures of organs and tissues and looks for disease. The radiologist reviews sonograms, mammograms, ultrasound, MRIs, CT scans, bone scans and PET scans.
Radiotherapy – Treatment for cancer using X-Rays that target cancer. It’s usually given 3-6 weeks after breast cancer surgery. It can also be used to shrink tumours.
Radiotherapy is not normally given to patients after a mastectomy.
Reproductive Endocrinologist – is a fertility expert who can help you understand how breast cancer can impact your fertility.
Secondary Breast Cancer – Advanced or Metastatic Breast Cancer
Sentinel Node Biopsy – This is the removal and testing of the sentinel node(s) or the first axillary node(s) in the underarm area that filter lymph fluid from the tumour site. This biopsy will detect cancer cells in the node(s).
Surgical Oncologist – Other names for this type of doctor are breast cancer surgeon or a general surgeon (who specialises in breast procedures).
Tamoxifen – This is a “pill” form of hormone therapy for early and advanced stage breast cancers that are hormone receptor-positive and need oestrogen to grow. Tamoxifen halts or slows tumour growth by blocking oestrogen from attaching to the hormone receptor in the cancer cell.
Targeted Therapy – This refers to drug therapies designed to attack particular proteins or molecules involved in cancer development. HER2-targeted therapies, such as trastuzumab (Herceptin), and PI3 kinase inhibitors, such as alpelisib (Piqray), are targeted therapies used in breast cancer treatment.
Triple Negative Breast Cancer – This breast cancer is an estrogen receptor-negative tumour and also progesterone receptor-negative and HER2-negative.
Triple Positive Breast Cancer – A breast cancer that is estrogen receptor-positive, progesterone receptor-positive and HER2-positive.
Tumour – An abnormal growth or mass of tissue that may be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Tumour Grade – The grade of a tumour is how far cancer cells are from “normal cells”. Grade 1 tumours are slow-growing and look the most like normal cells. Grade 3 tumours have fast-growing cells and look very abnormal. Grade 2 tumours are in the middle of these two categories.
Wire Localization (Needle Localization) – This involves insertion of a super-thin wire into the breast tissue to pinpoint the location of an abnormal area so it can be then be removed during a lumpectomy or biopsy.