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Glossary of Terms

Here are some of the more common terms you might hear during your cancer care and treatment.

Ambulatory Care Chemotherapy Unit (ACU)

An outpatient unit where chemotherapy drugs are administered intravenously.

Benign Tumour

An abnormal swelling or growth that is not a malignant or spreading cancer and is usually harmless.


The surgical removal of a piece of tissue from a patient for microscopic examination.


The use of radioactive “seed” implanted directly into a tumour. This allows a very high but sharply localized dose of radiation to be given to a tumour while sparing surrounding, healthy tissue from radiation exposure.


A large group of more than 100 diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells.


Any substance that causes cancer.


A form of cancer that arises in tissues that cover or line such organs as skin, intestines, uterus, lung and breast.


Treatment of disease by chemical compounds.

Clinical Trials

The process by which new cancer treatments are tested in humans. Clinical trials are conducted after experiments in animals and preliminary studies in humans have shown that a new treatment method is likely to be effective.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

A technique providing multiple cross-sectional X-ray images generated by computer. A CT scan can provide valuable information such as the presence, size, and location of a tumour and its impact on surrounding tissue.

Grade of Cancer

Describes the appearance of cancer cells under the microscope, and how differently they have become from what normal cells look like.

Hormone Therapy

A treatment in which hormones (as well as anti-hormones and other factors which regulate the endocrine glands) are used to fight some cancers of the breast, endometrium and prostate.


Cancer immunotherapy is a type of treatment that helps the immune system fight cancer.

Lymph Gland (Node)

Our bodies have a network of lymph vessels and lymph nodes. These glands or nodes act as filters for impurities in the body and concentrate lymphocytes used to fight infection. Cancer can start in these nodes or spread to them.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

A procedure that produces cross-sectional images of the body without the use of X-rays or radioactive materials. MRI uses a strong magnetic field, radio waves and a computer to produce excellent soft tissue images that are read by a radiologist.


An X-ray examination of the breasts using specialized equipment.


The process whereby cancer cells from the original tumour spread to other sites in the body.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Functional Imaging

PET is an imaging procedure that, when combined with Computed Tomography (CT), enables physicians to more accurately diagnose and manage disease, especially cancer.

Radiation Therapy

The use of radiation (high-energy rays) to kill or shrink tumour cells. Used to treat some, but not all cancers.

Stage of Cancer

There are two systems used together to classify cancer. TNM is a type of classification used to describe the extent of the cancer’s involvement in your body based on tumour (site and size), node (involvement of lymph nodes), and metastasis (spread). The second classification used is Spread of Cancer which uses a 1-4 scale system to describe the location of the cancer in your body.

Stem Cells

The immature cells from which all blood cells develop. These cells may divide to form more stem cells or mature into a variety of blood cell types.

Tumour Group

Groups of medical specialists at BC Cancer who set cancer treatment policies and protocols for the various types of tumour sites, i.e. prostate, breast, colorectal cancer.

Tumour Markers

Substances which provide a test for the presence of actively growing cancer; not recommended for early detection or screening of cancer but used at BC Cancer to indicate whether a particular treatment has reduced the size of a known tumour, or whether a tumour is growing.

SOURCE: Glossary of Terms ( )
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