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Glossary of Terms

This dictionary defines words that you may hear or read while going through a breast health concern. This is not a complete list of medical terms. If you have a question about a word that is not listed, ask your health care provider to explain it to you

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  1. Acute Care
         Short-term health care provided to patients who do not require concentrated and continuous observation.
  2. Adjuvant Therapy
         Treatment given along with the primary treatment.
  3. Anesthesia
         Gases or drugs that puts you to sleep, it causes the loss of feeling or sensation.
  4. Antibiotic:
         Chemical substances that kill other organisms that cause disease.
  5. Antibody:
         A protein in the blood that fights against bad agents such as bacteria.
  6. Areola:
         The dark area of flesh around the nipple of the breast.
  7. Asymptomatic:
         To not show signs of disease.
  8. Atypical:
         Not normal, or not usual.
  9. Axilla
         The armpit.
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  1. Benign:
         Not cancer.
  2. Biopsy:
         A procedure to remove tissue samples for examination under a microscope to find for cancer or abnormal cells.
  3. Bone Marrow Transplant:
         Where a donor's or the patient's own bone marrow is taken, cleaned and stored. Then the patient is given high amount of chemotherapy to kill cancer cells and the remaining bone marrow. Then the stored bone marrow is transplanted back to the patient to rescue their immune defenses.
  4. Breast reconstruction:
         Surgery to rebuild the shape of the breast after mastectomy.
  5. Breast self-exam (BSE):
         A technique of checking one's own breasts for lumps or changes.
  6. Breast Specialist
         Health care professionals who have a dedicated interest in breast health.

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  1. Calcifications:
         Tiny Calcium deposits within the breast found by mammography.
  2. Cancer:
         A general term for more than 100 diseases in which malignant cells develop. Some exist quietly within the body for years without causing a problem. Other are aggressive, rapidly forming tumors that may invade and destroy surrounding tissue and in some cases travel through the lymph system or bloodstream to distant areas of the body.
  3. Cancer Cell:
         A cell that divides and reproduces abnormally and can spread throughout the body.
  4. Cancer-related checkup:
         A routine health examination for cancer in persons without obvious signs or symptoms of cancer. The goal of the cancer-related check-up is to find the disease, if it exists, at an early stage, when chances for cure are greatest. Clinical breast examinations, Pap smears, and skin examinations are examples of methods used in cancer-related check-ups.
  5. CAT Scan:
         A scanning procedure in which multiple x-rays are taken of a body part to produce images of internal organs.
  6. Chemotherapy:
         Treatment with drugs to destroy cancer cells.
  7. Clinical trials:
         Research to test new drugs or treatments to compare to others to see which may be better.
  8. Co-insurance
         The amount you pay after your health plan has paid its share. A typical coinsurance amount is 10% or 20% of the amount the plan allows for the services you received. Most PPOs require the consumer to pay a percentage of the cost of their care.
  9. Consolidates Omnibus Budget reconciliation act of 1985(COBRA)
         A federal law that requires most employers and their beneficiaries to continue to self-pay for their coverage for after it normally terminates for up to 18, 24, 29 or 30 months.
  10. Co-payment
         The amount you pay each time you receive services. In many plans, the copayment is a flat amount, such as $10 or $15 for an office visit with a medical provider.
  11. Cyst:
         A lump filled with fluid that is usually benign.

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  1. Deductible
         The amount you must pay each year before the plan will start paying for services you receive. Most HMOs do not have deductibles; most PPOs do. A typical deductible amount is $250 per year for an individual.
  2. Detection:
         Finding disease.
  3. Diagnosis:
         Identifying a disease by signs and symptoms and laboratory findings. The earlier a diagnosis of cancer is made the better the chance of long-term survival.
  4. Dimpling:
         An indentation of the skin; on the breast, it may be a sign of cancer.
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  1. Early detection:
         The disease is found at an early stage before it has grown large or spread to other places in the body.
  2. Estrogen:
         A female sex hormone produced by the ovaries. In breast cancer, estrogen may promote the growth of cancer cells.
  3. Evidence of Coverage (EOC) or Summary Plan Description(SPD)- The health plan agreement or contract with your health plan. It explains your health care benefits, any limits to your coverage, the health plan's policies and procedures and what costs you will have to pay.
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  1. Gene:
         Determines such things as hair color, eye color, height, and the possible risk of getting certain diseases.
  2. Genetic Risk Counseling and testing:
         To determine a person's risk of disease that passes through genetics (such as breast cancer) by studying the family genetic history.

  1. High Risk:
         Having a high risk for developing cancer compared to the general population.
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  1. Imaging:
         A method of producing a picture of the inside of the body such as a x-ray (a breast x-ray is called a mammogram).
  2. In Situ Breast Cancer:
         A breast cancer that has not spread past the edges of the tumor, requires only removal of the tumor.
  3. Invasive Cancer:
         A Cancer that has spread beyond the area it started in, some spread to distant areas of the body, but some do not.

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  1. Limited breast surgery:
    Also called lumpectomy, segmental excision, and tylectomy. It removes the breast cancer and a small amount of tissue around the cancer, but preserves most of the breast. It is almost always combined with auxiliary lymph node removal and is followed by radiation therapy.
  2. Lump:
         Any mass that can be felt in the breast or any other place on the body.
  3. Lumpectomy:
         A surgery to remove the breast tumor.
  4. Lymphatic System:
         Important to the body's immune system. The tissues and organs (including bone marrow, spleen, and thymus) that produce and store lymphocytes (cells that fight infection).
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  1. Malignant tumor:
         A mass of cancer cells that may invade surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body.
  2. Mammogram, Mammography:
         An x-ray of the breast; the principal method of detecting breast cancer in women over 40. Mammograms are made using a special type of x-ray machine that is used only for this purpose. It has two plates. The lower plate is metal and has a drawer for the film cassette. The bare breast is placed on this plate. The upper plate, which is clear plastic, is lowered and compresses the breast. Compression is necessary to obtain a clear image of the interior structures of the breast. The compression is maintained for only a few seconds ­ long enough for the technician to go to the control panel and take the picture. The procedure is then repeated with the other breast. A mammogram can show a developing breast tumor before it is large enough to be felt by a woman or even by a highly skilled health care professional. Screening mammography is used for early detection of breast cancer in women without any breast symptoms. Diagnostic mammography is used to help characterize breast masses or determine the cause of other breast symptoms.
  3. Managed health care
         A system for providing health care delivery that may include set payment to doctors, financial incentives for consumers to use certain doctors, and coordination of health care services. There are different types of managed care systems. The most common are Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) and preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs). Generally, HMO members must sign up with a medical group and see doctors within that group. Some plans may allow members to see doctors "out-of-plan" at increased cost to the member. In most HMOs, the member chooses a "Primary care Provider" who becomes the doctor primarily responsible for the members care. The primary Care Provider may refer the member to specialists, if necessary. In PPOs, the member will pay less to see doctors in the plan and will pay more to see doctors out of the PPO. In PPOs, and in some HMOs, your ability to get care may be controlled by a "utilization review committee", a group that decides if health care services are necessary and are covered under the plan.
  4. Mastectomy:
         Surgery to remove most of part of the breast.
  5. Mastitis:
    Inflammation or infection of the breast.
  6. Medicare Health Maintenance Organization(HMO)
         Medicare pays the HMO to manage and provide care to patients. Medicare beneficiaries who join HMOs become "members" of the HMO plan and must receive care from the physician, hospitals, and health care providers belonging to the HMO. HMO enrollees are entitled to the same coverage as traditional Medicare beneficiaries.
  7. Menopause:
         When a woman stops having her monthly cycle and estrogen levels decrease.
  8. Metastatic:
         The spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body through the blood stream.
  9. MRI:
         Makes an image using a powerful magnet to send radio waves though the body to appear on a computer screen.
  10. Multi centric Breast Cancer:
         Breast cancer that occurs in many areas of the breast.
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  1. Nipple discharge:
         Any fluid coming from the nipple.
  2. Normal Hormonal Changes:
         Changes in breast tissue due to hormonal levels during the monthly cycle.

  1. Oncologist:
         A doctor who is trained in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
  2. Out-of Pocket Maximum
         Many plans limit the amount you have to pay each year. When you have reached the maximum amount, you do not have to pay any more for covered services.
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  1. Palliative treatment:      Therapy that helps ease pains, but not cure the disease. Offers patient a better quality of life.
  2. Palpation:
         Using the hands to examine.
  3. Pathologist:
         Determines if a lump is benign or cancerous by laboratory tests.
  4. Pre-existing condition      a condition or diagnosis which existed (or for which treatment was received) before coverage began under a current plan or insurance contract, and for which benefits are not available or are limited.
  5. Prognosis:
         A prediction of the course of disease; the outlook for the cure of the patient.
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  1. Radiologist:
         A trained physician who reads x-rays and other imaging methods.
  2. Rehabilitation:
         Activities to heal, adjust, and return to a full productive life after injury or illness.
  3. Relapse:
         When cancer appears again after a long period of no signs of disease.
  4. Remission:
         A complete or partial disappearance of the signs and symptoms of cancer. When the disease is under control.
  5. Risk Factor:
         Anything that increases a person's chance of getting a disease.
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  1. Screening:
         The search for disease in people who are without symptoms.
  2. Second Opinion:
         Seeking the advice of another medical doctor.
  3. Summary Plan Description (SPD)
      See Evidence of Coverage
  4. Support Group:
         A group of people with common experience to discuss their personal experiences and to support and educate each other.
  5. Survival Rate:
         The percentage of people who live a certain period of time. For example, the 5-year survival rate for women with localized breast cancer (including all women living five years after diagnosis, whether the patient was in remission, disease-free, or under treatment) was 78/% in the 1940's, but in the 1990's it is over 97%.
  6. Side Effects:
         Unwanted effects from treatments, such has hair loss or fatigue.

  1. Traditional Medicare Coverage
         Medicare pays directly for the care patients receive from any physician, hospital, or other health care provider licensed by Medicare. This payment system includes patient deductibles and copayments. Medi-Gap insurance and Medi-Cal are often used to supplement Medicare benefits.
  2. Tumor
         A lump or mass which has formed due to excessive accumulation of abnormal cells. "Tumor" is not a precise medical term. Tumors can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
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  1. Ultrasound:
        An imaging method that uses sound waves to define a part of the body.
  2. Unilateral:
         Affecting one side of the body. For example, unilateral breast cancer occurs in one breast only.

  1. White blood cells:
         Several types of blood cells that help defend the body against infections. Certain cancer treatments (particularly chemotherapy) can reduce the number of these cells and make a patient more vulnerable to infections. Some types of white blood cells may also help the body fight certain cancers.

  1. X-rays:
         A form of radiation that can produce an image of the body.

Source:Selected words from American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Dictionary (1995) and other sources. Back to Glossary Index