Cancer Glossary

Medical terminology is immensely useful for doctors, who can use it to precisely describe conditions to one another, but it can be confusing to the rest of us! Here is a  pet cancer glossary of terms often used.

adjuvant chemotherapy drug therapy used after surgery once all detectable disease has been removed

anaplastic or anaplasia when tumor cells no longer resemble the tissue from which they originated; also referred to as “poorly differentiated” or “undifferentiated” cells

anticipatory grief grief we experience prior to a pet’s death as we anticipate our impending loss

benign not malignant; in other words, not cancer

benign tumors tumors composed of abnormal cells that are not malignant and do not invade or replace normal tissues

biopsy a representative sample of an abnormal growth that is submitted for analysis and identification

cancer the general term used to describe the uncontrolled growth of abnormal, invasive cells on or within the body

cancer cachexia a state of accelerated starvation caused by cancer’s takeover of the energy-generating pathways in the body

carcinomas malignant tumors that originate from that line various organs, glands and comprise part of the skin.

carcinogen cancer-causing agents that affect the DNA and RNA of cells, leading to uncontrolled growth and development of a tumor

cartilage products substances derived from cartilage of cattle and sharks

cesium or colbalt therapy another term for radiation therapy

chemotherapy powerful drugs to kill cancer cells

chemotherapy resistance a tumor’s lack of responsiveness to some or all chemotherapy drugs

chiropractic medicine a medical treatment using manipulation that focuses on the relationship between the spine and nervous system

clinical pathology a veterinary specialist trained to examine, identify, and analyze under the microscope small number of cells from a needle biopsy

complementary therapy medical treatment options that are outside the realm of conventional, accepted, proven treatments

complete blood count (CBC) a laboratory procedure to determine the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in a sample of blood

computerized tomography (CT) scan a diagnostic scanning process that uses computer technology to produced images of cross sections through the body

cremains the ashes that remain after the body has been cremated

cryosurgery the freezing of tumor cells in a controlled area by applying liquid nitrogen

cycle regular intervals of chemotherapy drugs

cytology the examination of cells or fluid under a microscope to diagnose disease

CT or CAT (computed axial tomographic) scan an x-ray imaging procedure that uses a computer to produce a series of detailed pictures of an area of the body

debulking the surgical removal of as much of a tumor as possible to decrease the number of tumor cells in the body

dry or moist desquamation changes in the skin following radiation therapy that resemble sun burn

endoscope a thin, flexible tube containing fibers that transmit light; used to visualize the inside surfaces of the respiratory system, the digestive system, and the lower urinary tract

endoscopic biopsy a small representative sample of abnormal tissue removed via an endoscope

epithelial cells originating from the epithelium, the tissue covering the skin and all the glandular tissue of the body; epithelial tissue also lines the airways (trachea, bronchi), the mouth, the urinary and genital orifices, and the gastrointestinal tract

esophagostomy tube a soft rubber feeding tube surgically placed through the side of the neck into the esophagus, maintained to allow food to bypass the mouth

euthanasia the peaceful ending of a pet’s life through the administration of an overdose of anesthesia. Euthanasia is performed when a pet can no longer be kept comfortable

excisional biopsy removal of an entire tumor with the border of normal tissue on all side – the “block” of tissue is then submitted for analysis

fine needle aspirate removal of cells from a tumor by way of a hollow needle and syringe – cells are then analyzed by a veterinary clinical pathologist; this procedure is also called needle biopsy

gastrostomy tube (g-tube) a soft rubber feeding tube surgically placed from the outside of the body directly to the stomach, maintained to allow food to bypass the mouth and esophagus

grade how abnormal or aggressive a cancer is, as determined by biopsy; grade is often a number from 1-5, 1 being the “best,” or least abnormal, and 5 being the “worst,” but other grading schemes are sometimes used, so ask your vet to explain what the grade of a particular cancer means; the grade of malignancy along with its stage (see below), determines what treatment is best and give a general idea of the dog’s prognosis

herbal and botanical medicine products created from herbs and other plants that are used for medical purposes

histopathologist another term for surgical pathologist

homeopathic medicine a treatment option involving very dilute remedies made from naturally occurring substances

hospice care compassionate care administered to an animal patient prior to euthanasia but after cancer therapy stops working

hypercalcemia abnormally elevated levels of calcium in the blood

immune modulation therapy stimulation of the immune system in very specific ways to assist in killing cancer cells

immunoaugmentive therapy an experimental cancer treatment that involves injecting blood products daily into the animal patient for the purpose of stimulating the pets immune system

incisional biopsy removal of a representative sample of a tumor via a surgical incision

invasive a cancer that spreads outward from its point of origin into adjacent tissues

irradiation another term for radiation therapy

jejunostomy tube (J-tube) a soft rubber feeding tube surgically placed directly into the small intestine, maintained to allow food to bypass the mouth, esophagus, and stomach

leukemia a cancer of the white blood cells and forms in bone marrow; chronic leukemia grows slowly; in acute leukemia, abnormal cells increase rapidly

lymph nodes small lumps of tissue containing white blood cells that are found along the lymphatic system, a network of fluid-filled vessels that is separate from the veins and arteries; cells from a malignant tumor often enter the lymphatic system, so the lymph nodes closest to the tumor-plus any lymph nodes elsewhere that are enlarged-are often biopsied to see whether the cancer has spread

lymphoma cancer of the lymph nodes; although most lymphomas do originate in the lymph nodes, some may begin in the spleen, liver, bone marrow, skin, or brain; the term “lymphoma” is used interchangeably with “lymphosarcoma”

magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) a computer-assisted imaging technology especially well suited for uncovering tumors in the soft tissues of the body

malignant cancerous

malignant tumors tumors that invade other tissues or destroy and replace normal cells

mammary tumors are most commonly found in older female dogs who are either not spayed or who were spayed at an older age

manoma or melanosarcomael a benign or malignant growth of the pigmented cells of the skin and mouth, common in the dog but rare in the cat; the malignant version of this tumor, called a melanosarcoma or malignant melanoma, can spread rapidly both into lymph channels and through the bloodstream

mass a growth or tumor; a mass can be benign or malignant

mast cell tumor a common skin tumor in the dog that is also seen occasionally in the cat; mast cell tumors can metastasize to other sites in the body, usually by the lymph nodes and lymph channels

massage therapy medical treatment that involves manipulation of the body tissues with a focus on muscles, circulation, and the nervous system

meridians parallel channels of energy that flows throughout the body and are modified with the application of acupuncture

metastasis the spread and growth of cancer cells from the original tumor site to other parts of the body, a result of cancer cells entering the blood stream or lymphatic system

mucositis a side effect of radiation therapy in which the mucous membranes that line the mouth develop irritation and ulceration; mucositis is a temporary event

multifocal a term used to indicate that disease is present in more than one location in the body

myelosuppression lack of production of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets in the bone marrow, often caused by damage induced by chemotherapy

nasgastric tube (N-G tube) a small-diameter, soft rubber tube that is passed through a nostril, through the nasal passages, and down the esophagus into the stomach for delivery of liquid nutrients, bypassing the mouth

needle biopsy removal of cells from a tumor by way of a hollow needle and syringe; the cells are then analyzed by a veterinary clinical pathologist; this procedure is also called fine needle aspirate

neoplasm or neoplasia (plural) a growth of any new or abnormal cells or tissue in the body; the cells of a neoplasm proliferate autonomously, without the normal mechanisms that control the dividing of non-neoplastic cells

nutritional therapy the use of specific nutrients of lifestyle diets to treat disease

oncology the study and treatment of cancer

orthovoltage therapy another term for radiation therapy

osteosarcoma a type of cancer originating in bone; this tumor is commonly seen in the dog, especially in the large or giant breeds; it is most frequently found in the bones of the legs; osteosarcomas are particularly malignant, spreading rapidly through the body via the bloodstream

ovariohysterectomy surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries from the female animal

palliative treatment (e.g. palliative radiation) any treatment used for the purpose of relieving symptoms associated with a tumor rather than with the intention of curing cancer; for example, palliative radiation therapy may be used to shrink an enlarged, cancer-filled lymph node in the neck so that the patient’s breathing and swallowing are less difficult

paraneoplastic event or syndrome a symptom or set of symptoms that result from cancer, but which are felt in the body far from the original tumor site

pathologist A doctor who specializes in examining biopsies , blood, urine, and other tissue samples to diagnose diseases

pharmacological and biological therapy treatment options involving drugs, vaccines, or other materials (e.g. shark cartilage) not yet accepted by the traditional medical establishment

preemptive pain management medicating to prevent pain and discomfort

primary tumor the first, or original, tumor as opposed to one that has spread from another location

prognosis the likelihood that a dog’s cancer can be treated successfully; a dog’s “prognosis without treatment” is how long he is likely to live if the cancer is not treated

protocol the “recipe” of drugs used to treat a particular tumor, along with the doses and the schedule for administration of each drug

radiation therapy the application of specific, intense energy from a machine or radioactive substance that can kill cancer cells or prevent them from growing and dividing

radiation oncologist a medical specialist who plans, prescribes, and administers radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer

radiograph the image produced on special film when X rays are passed through a part of the body;  the x-rays are blocked to varying degrees by the tissues of the body, producing many shades of gray on the radiograph; denser tissues like bone block more x-rays and appear white, soft tissues like muscle block fewer x-rays and appear gray, and air blocks no x-rays and appear black

radiotherapy another term for radiation therapy

recurrence return of cancer after it has been treated

remission the disappearance of detectable cancer; “remission” is used rather than “cure” in discussing cancer because if one cancer cell remains in a dog’s body, it is possible for the cancer to return in the future

sarcomas malignant cancers resulting from the supportive tissues in the body (bone, fast, cartilage, muscle, fibrous tissue, blood, lymph nodes)

serum biochemical profile blood tests that evaluate organ system functions, blood sugar, and levels of minerals in the body

staging an assessment of the extent of the tumor; the diagnostic procedures for staging are used to evaluate invasion of the tumor into bone or other surrounding tissue, cancer involvement in lymphatics and lymph nodes, and spread of tumor into other organs (hematogenous metastasis); tumors are usually described as Stage I, Stage II, Stage III, Stage IV, etc., depending on how far the tumor has spread; these stages are different for different kinds of cancer

squamous cell carcinoma a type of cancer originating in the skin

surgical pathologist (histopathologist) a veterinary pathologist trained to identify and evaluate fixed, stained samples of tissue under the microscope

total parenteral nutrition (TNP) a method of providing all necessary nutrients intravenously

tumor a mass or growth;  a tumor can be benign or malignant; a “fatty tumor” (lipoma) is one common example of a benign tumor

tumor margin the border around a tumor’s outer perimeter that is carefully evaluated by the surgical pathologist to determine if all cancer cells have been removed at surgery

urinalysis evaluation of the components of urine, including a microscopic examination and any cellular debris

veterinary oncologist a doctor who specializes in treating cancer

x-ray therapy another term for radiation therapy