We know that it can often be difficult for a patient to understand all the terms a doctor uses when giving a diagnosis or explaining a treatment plan. For this reason, to ensure you have the best possible experience at your medical visit, we provide a glossary of medical terms you may come across during your oncology journey:
Assessment – represents the totality of clinical, paraclinical and laboratory investigations carried out on a patient pre-therapeutic – to establish the treatment plan; stage – to assess the response to treatment and guide future medical actions; post-therapeutic – after completion of specific treatments and the patient’s entry into the monitoring phase.
Biopsy – the harvesting of cells or tissue fragments from an organ or tissue for pathological examination in order to establish a definitive diagnosis. The pathologist studies this sample under a microscope and/or performs other tests with this tissue fragment. There are several types of biopsy: incisional – a tissue sample is removed from a tumour; excisional – the whole tumour or suspicious area is removed; large needle biopsy = core-biopsy, or fine needle biopsy = fine needle aspiration (small tissue fragments are removed in core biopsy and groups of cells in fine needle aspiration).
Cancer – Cancer is a term that defines a variety of human diseases characterized by an abnormal, chaotic growth of cells in a particular organ or tissue. This aberrant, uncontrolled growth leads to a tumour, also called a primary tumour. From here malignant (cancerous) tumours can spread throughout the body, leading to the formation of new tumours – also called secondary lesions or metastases. The causes of this disease are innumerable and there is no single risk factor that can be blamed for the development of cancer. It is usually a combination of risk factors such as environmental factors, individual behavioural risk factors and various habits (diet, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, etc.), as well as genetic, inherited factors.
Computer Tomography – medical device that uses X-radiation to acquire and process images that allow detailed visualization of the internal structures of the human body. The main components of the CT computer include the gantry which includes the radiation source and detectors, the patient table (flat surface on which the patient is positioned), the data acquisition and processing system which uses mathematical algorithms for image reconstruction and is responsible for data storage.
Cyberknife – medical device that emits X-ray radiation beams, used in radiosurgery. It comprises two main components: an imaging system that allows for highly accurate localisation of the tumour and an X-ray source that is mounted on a robotic arm with multiple joints and six degrees of freedom of movement, allowing convergent focusing of radiation beams into the tumour volume from over 1200 directions.
Diagnosis of certainty – pentru tratamentul corect al oricărui pacient cu o boală malignă este necesar un examen de certitudine care este examenul histopatologic al ţesutului tumoral, obţinut printr-o intervenţie chirurgicală curativă sau o simplă biopsie.DNA – Cancer starts with a change in the structure of DNA, which is present in all human cells. DNA gives our cells a set of basic instructions, including how to grow and reproduce. A change in DNA structure is known as a mutation. This can change the instructions that control cell growth. This means that the cells continue to grow instead of stopping when they should. When cells reproduce uncontrollably they produce a lump of tissue called a tumour.
The multidisciplinary medical team – it is made up of all the doctors involved in solving an oncological case and includes, necessarily – the medical oncologist, the oncological surgeon specialized in different locations of cancer, the radiotherapist, the anatomo-pathologist, the psychologist, but also other specialists depending on the particularities of the case. No oncological patient has a chance of healing, improving or increasing the quality of life, except in the scientific framework of a treatment plan designed by the medical staff dedicated to this type of pathology, based on national and international medical practice guidelines.
Fraction – radiotherapy treatment session.
Hysterectomy – surgery usually recommended for cervical cancer.
Two types of hysterectomy are used to treat cervical cancer. These are:
• radical hysterectomy – where the cervix, uterus, surrounding tissues, lymph nodes, ovaries and fallopian tubes are removed, this is the option used at an advanced stage of the disease
Hormonal therapy – Standard therapy consists of taking so-called anti-estrogens that block estrogen receptors and prevent the action of estrogen itself (which would stimulate tumor growth). This treatment is usually given for 5 years. A large proportion of breast cancers contain receptors for female sex hormones: this means that these hormones can stimulate tumour growth. In these cases, tumour growth is blocked or slowed by intervening in the female hormone system.
Linac – a medical device that emits high-energy X-ray or electron beams used for radiotherapeutic treatment.
Tumour markers – molecules found in blood, other fluids or tissues that are a sign of a pathological, tumour process in the body being tested. Tumour markers are mainly used to monitor response to specific treatment.
Mask – a cast or mask made of thermoplastic material used to secure the patient’s head and shoulders during radiotherapy treatment.
Mastectomy – medical term used for the surgical removal of one or both breasts, partially or completely. Mastectomy is usually done to treat breast cancer;
Menopause – a normal, natural phenomenon defined as the end of the menstrual period, confirmed by the absence of a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months (in the absence of other obvious causes). As we get older, all our body organs slow down their functions. Without exception, the ovaries go through the same phenomenon, resulting in low production of estrogen and progesterone. This physiological phenomenon marks the permanent end of fertility and characterises the menopause.
Metastases – these are so-called secondary, distant lesions and are represented by the appearance of malignant tumours in tissues and organs other than the one where the malignant tumour originally appeared. The appearance of one or more metastases means that the disease has begun to spread. Regardless of their number or location, they classify a patient as stage IV disease.
Monitoring – is the process of actively supervising an oncology patient who has completed the specific stages of treatment. It is characterised by a number of regular check-ups that the patient must attend. The role of these check-ups is to detect possible relapses or distant metastases in time for early and correct treatment to increase the patient’s chances of cure. Clinical and paraclinical investigations are carried out at each check-up and their frequency depends on the type of tumour, its location and the specific treatments performed.
Multidisciplinary medical team – is made up of all the doctors involved in the resolution of an oncological case and includes, obligatorily – the medical oncologist, the oncological surgeon specialized in different cancer sites, the radiotherapist, the anatomopathologist, the psychologist, but also other specialists depending on the particularities of the case. No cancer patient has a chance of cure, improvement or increase in quality of life, except within the scientific framework of a treatment plan designed by medical staff dedicated to this type of pathology, based on national and international medical practice guidelines.
Oncology – is a medical specialty that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Oncologist – cancer specialist.
PET CT – imaging method used to identify and locate malignant changes throughout the body by non-invasive assessment of tissue metabolism and combining it with CT. This method is based on the increased glucose consumption specific to most cancers. The most commonly used tracer is 18-FDG, a glucose analogue to which the F18 isotope is attached. FDG accumulation in tissues is proportional to the amount of glucose used.
Treatment plan – a very important step in a radiotherapy procedure. It includes two processes: the delineation of the anatomical structures of interest by the radiotherapist and the dosimetric calculation by the medical physicist using a computerised system. In the first stage the radiotherapist outlines the target volume and critical organs to be protected using CT and sometimes MRI images. In the second stage, the medical physicist establishes the parameters of the irradiation fields that lead to an optimal dose distribution: covering the tumour volume with a homogeneous radiation dose and protecting the surrounding healthy tissues as much as possible.
Prognosis – is the estimation of the patient’s evolution once diagnosed with a malignant tumour, the assessment of the chances of curability, depending on the type of tumour and the individual characteristics of each patient.
It can be:
– Favourable: for less aggressive tumours found in early stages in patients with good general condition and no comorbidities (diseases other than the patient’s malignancy);
– Unfavourable: in very aggressive, late diagnosed, advanced tumours, in patients with altered general condition and present comorbidities;
– Reserved, infertile – in patients diagnosed in the terminal stage of malignant disease, for whom there are no current resources for specific treatment and only symptomatic, supportive treatment is performed.
Radiotherapy – is a discipline specialising in the use of ionising radiation for therapeutic purposes in patients with cancers and other diseases. The aim of radiotherapy is to deliver a precise dose of radiation to a very well-defined tumour volume with the avoidance of side effects in healthy tissues, resulting in: tumour eradication, increased quality of life and prolonged survival with reasonable side effects. In addition to its curative role, radiotherapy also plays a palliative role in the effective prevention or palliation of symptoms such as pain, restoration of luminal function (deobstruction), skeletal and organ integrity with minimal morbidity.
External beam radiation therapy – a method of cancer treatment that uses radiation beams emitted from a radiation source at a distance from the patient’s body.
Radiotherapists – specialist staff qualified to provide radiotherapy treatment; they are the main people you will come into contact with when undergoing treatment.
Relapses – are represented by the recurrence of the malignant disease locally or loco-regionally (in the anatomical site or region where the primary tumour developed).
CT scan planning – uses X-rays and a computer to visualise organs and regions of the body for radiotherapy treatment planning.
Stages of disease – there are 4 main stages of malignant disease noted from I to IV where I and II are considered early stages with good prognosis, frequently curable, and stages III and IV are advanced stages of disease with less favourable or even reserved prognosis. There is also a preclinical stage of disease called stage 0, or microscopic stage, discovered (often by chance) before the appearance of usual clinical or paraclinical changes. To determine the stage of the disease, all the imaging and laboratory investigations required for each type of cancer site are carried out, as the treatment plan depends essentially on the stage of the disease, among other factors.
Tattooing – permanent paint markings on the patient’s skin, the size of a pinpoint, made during the CT image acquisition procedure for treatment planning, used for precise positioning of the patient on the treatment table throughout the duration of radiotherapy treatment.
Curative treatment – aims to completely eliminate the cancer and provides long-term benefits.
Palliative treatment – aims to shrink tumours and reduce pain or relieve other symptoms of cancer. Although cure is not possible, radiotherapy can also prolong life.
Specific treatments – are all types of therapy: surgical, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapies, etc. used by the medical team in the treatment of a cancer to eradicate the primary tumour and metastases.
Symptomatic, supportive treatments are treatments that do not directly address the cancerous tumour, but are used to control the symptoms of the disease and for general support of the patient’s organs and systems affected by the disease itself or by the treatments used (their side effects).
Tumour – the body is made up of millions of different cells. Cancer occurs when some of the cells multiply in an abnormal way. When cancer affects solid organs and tissues, a formation called a tumour develops. Cancer can occur in any part of the body where cells multiply abnormally.
Benign tumour – a non-cancerous tumour, which does not generate distant lesions and generally no local recurrences.
Malignant tumour – cancerous tumour.