Glossary of Terms

These common terms will help as you navigate MBC.

Biomarker Testing – every cancer is unique. If you have biopsy, a biomarker test is done to determine your prognosis and to predict outcomes. Biomarkers can be prognostic, predictive, or both. Prognostic biomarkers are independent measures of prognosis such that the presence or absence of the biomarker is associated with a patient's overall clinical outcome (i.e., risk of recurrence and mortality). Predictive biomarkers, in contrast, predict whether or not a patient will respond to a given therapy.

Biopsy - A test that removes tissue or sometimes fluid from the suspicious area. The removed cells are examined under a microscope and further tested to check for the presence of breast cancer or determine the subtype of the metastasis.

Bone Scan - A bone scan is a nuclear imaging test that helps diagnose, track  and detect cancer that has spread (metastasized) to the bone from the tumor's original location, such as the breast or prostate.

Chemotherapy aka: Chemo – the treatment of cancer (or other diseases) by the use of chemical cytoxic and other substances. Chemo can work throughout the whole body. This means chemo can kill cancer cells that have spread (metastasized) to parts of the body far away from the original (primary) tumor.

Clinical Trial – is a research studies performed in people that are aimed at evaluating a medical, surgical, or behavioral intervention. They are the primary way that researchers find out if a new treatment, like a new drug is safe and effective in people. For those living with MBC, clinical trial can be a good, life extending treatment option after being on several treatment lines or it can be a good first choice treatment option. Discuss this option with your physician.

Cold Therapy for hair and nail Loss – Cold Therapy including cold caps, frozen gloves, and frozen socks can help prevent some of the hair loss, as well as skin and nail loss caused by taxane chemotherapy. Taxane chemotherapy includes Taxol, Taxotere  and Abraxane.

CT Scan (computerized tomography scan, computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan) - 
allows doctors to see inside your body. It uses a combination of X-rays and a computer to create pictures of your organs, bones, and other tissues.

Cyber Knife System - is a radiation therapy device manufactured by Accuray Incorporated. The system is used to deliver radiosurgery for the treatment of benign tumors, malignant tumors and other medical conditions.

Hormone Therapy - also called endocrine therapy, is commonly used to treat recurrent breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer and it is the first therapy to specifically target in oncology. Anti-cancer hormone therapies for breast cancer all act to block the effect of estrogen on breast cancer cells but achieve it through a variety of different modes of action. The main classes of hormone therapy are steroidal and non-steroidal aromatase inhibitors, selective estrogen-receptor modulators, and a selective estrogen-receptor degrader. Aromatase inhibitors inactivate the enzyme that converts androgens to estrogens; selective estrogen-receptor modulators bind competitively to the estrogen receptor; and the selective estrogen-receptor degrader binds to the estrogen receptor and accelerates its degradation.

Infusion - infusion therapy deals with all aspects of fluid and medication infusion, via intravenous or subcutaneous application.

Immunotherapy - Immunotherapy or biological therapy is the treatment of disease by activating or suppressing the immune system. Immunotherapies designed to elicit or amplify an immune response are classified as activation immunotherapies, while immunotherapies that reduce or suppress are classified as suppression immunotherapies.

Kinase Inhibitor - A protein kinase inhibitor is a type of enzyme inhibitor that blocks the action of one or more protein kinases. Protein kinases are enzymes that add a phosphate group to a protein, and can modulate its function

Lymph Node - A small bean-shaped structure that is part of the body's immune system. Lymph nodes filter substances that travel through the lymphatic fluid, and they contain lymphocytes (white blood cells) that help the body fight infection and disease. There are hundreds of lymph nodes found throughout the body.

Lymphedema - refers to swelling that generally occurs in one of your arms or legs. Sometimes both arms or both legs swell. Lymphedema is most commonly caused by the removal of or damage to your lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment.

Metastatic or Advanced Breast Cancer - Stage IV metastatic (or advanced) breast cancer occurs when cancer cells leave the original tumor site in the breast and spread beyond the axillary lymph nodes to other organs in the body with the most common sites being the liver, lung, bone and brain. There is no stage after IV. While metastatic breast cancer is treatable, there is no cure. New treatments and therapies are emerging each year that offer some patients progression free survival (extended life). Most treatments are relatively new so there is still more information needed about overall survival rates (>5 years). 

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) - is an imaging test that uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create pictures of the body. It does not use ionizing radiation (x-rays). Single MRI images are called slices. The images can be stored on a computer or printed on film. One exam produces dozens or sometimes hundreds of images.

Molecular Testing – a molecular diagnostic tool that assesses a breast cancer patient’s chance for tumor recurrence. An example of a molecular test is MammaPrint

Gene Mutation – A gene mutation  may tell if a person has a predisposition to cancer and with genomic testing, may identify the if the cancer will grow. This is important to people with MBC because it can help a patient and physician determine the best treatment path. There are two types of gene mutations: 

Germline (inherited) mutations: Germline mutations are genetic changes that are present from the time of conception (hereditary) and are found in every cell in the body. BRCA is an inherited mutation. 

Somatic (acquired) mutations: Mutations such as PIK3CA mutations are considered somatic mutations and are acquired in the process of a cell becoming a cancer cell. They are found only in the tissue or organ affected by cancer and not other cells of the body. They are not considered hereditary 

National Institutes of Health (NIH) - A part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH is the largest biomedical research agency in the world.

National Cancer Institute (NCI) - The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is the federal government's principal agency for cancer research and training. NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of 11 agencies that make up the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

No Evidence of Active Disease (NEAD or NED) - is often used when there is no physical evidence of cancer on examination or imaging tests after or during treatment. No evidence of disease means the same thing as complete remission or complete response. It does not, however, mean that a cancer is cured.

Oral Medication – medicine taken by mouth (pills, gummies, liquid).

Palliative Care - doesn't just serve the dying. It focuses on improving life and providing comfort to people of all ages with serious, chronic, and life-threatening illnesses.

Positron emission tomography (PET) Scan - A positron emission tomography scan is a type of imaging test. It uses a radioactive substance called a tracer to look for disease in the body. A positron emission tomography (PET) scan shows how organs and tissues are working.

Radiation Therapy - Radiation therapy for breast cancer uses high-energy X-rays, protons or other particles to kill cancer cells. Rapidly growing cells, such as cancer cells, are more susceptible to the effects of radiation therapy than are normal cells. The X-rays or particles are painless and invisible. You are not radioactive after treatment, so it is safe to be around other people, including children.

Side-Effects - a secondary, typically undesirable effect of a drug or medical treatment.

Second Opinion - advice from a second expert (such as a doctor) to make sure advice from the first such expert is correct.

Symptoms - a physical or mental feature which is regarded as indicating a condition of disease, particularly such a feature that is apparent to the patient.

Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program (SEER Database) - The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program provides information on cancer statistics in an effort to reduce the cancer burden among the U.S. population. Currently, SEER collects data on stage IV metastatic breast cancer if it is diagnosed de novo but does not count if someone had an early stage breast cancer that progressed to stage IV. SEER also does not collect accurate data about the distant organ(s) your breast cancer has spread to. Instead, SEER shows a secondary cancer to that organ. METAvivor is working to change this so we there is accurate MBC data and statistics for research.

TNM (Tumor, Lymph Node, Metastasis) System - The TNM system is used to describe the size of the primary tumor and the spread of cancer to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

  • Tumor (T). The size and location of the tumor.
  • Lymph Node (N). The size and location of lymph nodes where cancer has spread.
  • Metastasis (M). The spread of cancer to other parts of the body.
  • The grading system is used to describe how quickly a breast tumor is likely to grow and spread.

X-Ray - a type of radiation called electromagnetic waves. X-ray imaging creates pictures of the inside of your body. The images show the parts of your body in different shades of black and white. This is because different tissues absorb different amounts of radiation. Calcium in bones absorbs x-rays the most, so bones look white. Fat and other soft tissues absorb less and look gray. Air absorbs the least, so lungs look black.