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Glossary Of Chemotherapy Terms


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© American Cancer Society 2010

Adjuvant therapy: Treatment used in addition to main treatment. It usually refers to hormone therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy given after surgery to increase the chances of curing the disease or keeping it in check.

After a cancer is removed with surgery, there may still be some cancer cells left behind that cannot be seen. When drugs are used to kill those unseen cancer cells, it is called adjuvant chemotherapy. Adjuvant treatment can also be given after using radiation to kill the cancer -- such as adjuvant hormone therapy after radiation for prostate cancer.

Alopecia: Hair loss. It is usually short term and is caused by the use of chemo drugs.

Anemia: Having too few red blood cells. Symptoms of anemia include feeling tired, weak, and short of breath.

Anti-emetic: A medicine to prevent or control nausea and vomiting.

Benign: Non-cancerous, or not cancer.

Blood cell count: The number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in a sample of blood. This is also called complete blood count (CBC).

Bone marrow: The inner, spongy tissue of bones where blood cells are made.

Cancer: A general term for more than 100 diseases in which abnormal cells grow out of control. Also used to refer to a malignant tumor or cancerous tumor.

Catheter: A thin, flexible tube. Doctors use these to place fluids in your body or as a way for fluids to leave your body.

Central venous catheter (CVC): A special thin, flexible tube placed in a large vein, usually in the chest, neck, or upper arm. It can remain there for as long as it is needed to deliver and withdraw fluids.

Chemotherapy: The use of drugs to treat disease. The term most often refers to drugs used to treat cancer. Often called chemo.

Chromosomes: Threadlike bodies that carry genetic information. They are found in the nucleus, or center part, of a cell.

Clinical trials: Medical research studies done in patient volunteers. Each study is designed to answer scientific questions and to find better ways to detect, prevent, or treat cancer or its side effects.

Combination chemotherapy: The use of more than one chemo drug to treat cancer.

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM): Non-conventional ways of dealing with disease. This term covers a broad range, such as herbs/vitamins/minerals, mind/body/spirit, diet and nutrition, physical touch, and biological methods.

Fatigue: The feeling of being tired physically, mentally, and emotionally. Cancer-related fatigue persists over time and can interfere with usual activities. This fatigue is different from the fatigue of everyday life, which is usually short term and relieved by rest.

Growth factors: Also known as colony-stimulating factors, growth factors are substances that stimulate the production of blood cells in the bone marrow. They can help the blood-forming tissue recover from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Hormones: Natural substances released by an organ that can influence the function of other organs in the body and the growth of some types of cancer.

Infusion: Slow and/or prolonged intravenous (IV) delivery of a drug or fluids.

Injection: Using a syringe and needle to push fluids or drugs into the body; often called a shot.

Intra-arterial: Into an artery.

Intracavitary: Into a cavity or space; most often the abdomen, pelvis, or the chest.

Intralesional: Into a tumor.

Intramuscular (IM): Into a muscle.

Intrathecal (IT): Into the spinal fluid (also called cerebrospinal fluid or CSF).

Intravenous (IV): Into a vein.

Malignant: Cancerous.

Metastasis/Metastasized: The spread of cancer cells to other areas of the body through the lymph system or bloodstream.

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is when chemotherapy is given before the main cancer treatment (such as surgery or radiation). Giving chemotherapy first can shrink a large tumor, making it easier to remove with surgery. Shrinking the tumor may also allow it to be treated more easily with radiation. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy also kills small deposits of cancer cells that cannot be seen on scans or x-rays.

Neoadjuvant therapy: Systemic therapy, such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or radiation therapy, given to shrink a tumor before surgery is done.

Orally (PO): Taken by mouth

Peripheral neuropathy: A condition of the nervous system that usually begins in the hands and/or feet with symptoms of numbness, tingling, burning, and/or weakness. It can be caused by some chemo drugs.

Platelets (Plts): Special blood cells that plug up damaged blood vessels and help blood clot to stop bleeding.

Radiation therapy: The use of high-energy rays or subatomic particles to treat disease. Types of radiation include x-ray, electron beam, alpha and beta particles, and gamma ray.

Red blood cells (RBCs): Cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body.

Remission: The partial or complete disappearance of signs and symptoms of disease.

Stomatitis: Sores on the lining of the mouth.

Topical: Put directly to the skin.

Tumor: An abnormal growth of cells or tissues. Tumors are either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

White blood cells (WBCs): The blood cells that fight infection.

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