Glossary

Most of the words listed here are used in this booklet; others are words you are likely to hear used by doctors and other health professionals who will be working with you.

anaesthetic–a drug given to stop a person feeling pain. A ‘local’ anaesthetic numbs part of the body, usually the skin; a ‘general’ anaesthetic causes temporary loss of consciousness.

benign–not cancerous – benign cells are not able to spread elsewhere in the body.

biopsy–the removal of an amount of cells or tissue from the body, so that it can then be examined under a microscope.

carcinoma in situ–a malignant tumour that is confined to its original site.

cells–the ‘building blocks’ of the body. A human is made of millions of cells, which are adapted for different functions. Cells are able to reproduce themselves exactly, unless they are abnormal or damaged, as are cancer cells.

computerised tomography (CT) scan–previously known as a CAT scan. A series of X-rays that are built to give a picture of the part X-rayed.

dermis–one of two main layers that make up the skin. The dermis is the second layer, which contains the roots of hairs, glands that make sweat, blood vessels, lymph vessels and nerves.

epidermis–one of two main layers that make up the skin. The epidermis is the surface layer, which contains basal cells, squamous cells – which contain keratin, a protective substance that resists heat, cold and the effects of many chemicals – and melanocytes that produce melanin.

genes–the codes contained in DNA in each cell that control the way the body’s cells grow and behave. Each person’s cells have a set of many thousands of genes inherited from both parents.

haematoma–an accumulation of blood in the tissues that clots to form a solid swelling.

immune system–the body’s natural defence system. It helps to protect us against anything it recognises as being an ‘invader’ or ‘foreign’; for example, bacteria, viruses, transplanted organs and tissues, cancer cells and parasites.

lymph nodes/lymph vessels/lymphatic system–lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures which are part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the immune system, which protects the body against ‘invaders’, such as bacteria and parasites. It is a network of small lymph nodes connected by very thin lymph vessels, which branch into every part of the body. The lymph nodes filter the lymph to remove bacteria and other harmful agents, such as cancer cells.

magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan–similar to a CT scan, but this test uses magnetism instead of X-rays to build up cross-sectional pictures of the body.

malignant–a tumour that is cancerous and likely to spread if not treated.

melanin–the brown pigment, produced by melanocytes, which gives the skin its colour. Its role is to protect the body against the damaging effect of the ultraviolet rays present in sunlight and tanning machines. People with dark skin have more melanocytes than fair-skinned people.

melanocytes–cells in the epidermis and elsewhere that produce melanin.

melanoma–cancer of the melanocytes. The cancer usually appears on the skin, but may affect the eye and mucous membranes. Excessive exposure to UV radiation contributes to the development of melanoma on the skin.

metastasis (plural = metastases). Also known as secondary(ies)–tumours or masses of cells that develop when cancer cells break away from the original (primary) cancer and are carried by the lymphatic and blood systems to other parts of the body.

palliative–controlling the symptoms of a disease rather than curing it.

pathologist–a person who works in a laboratory to diagnose disease and understand its nature and cause.

placebo–an inactive substance or preparation given and used in controlled studies, such as clinical trials, to determine the efficacy of medical treatments.

positron emission tomography (PET) scan–a technique that is used to build up clear and very detailed pictures of the body. The person is injected with a glucose solution containing a very small amount of radioactive material. The scanner can ‘see’ the radioactive substance. Damaged or cancerous cells show up as areas where the glucose is being taken up.

prognosis–an assessment of the course and likely outcome of a person’s disease.

sentinel node–the first lymph node that a tumour drains into through the lymphatic system.

tumour–a new or abnormal growth of tissue on or in the body. Tumours can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

ultrasound–sound waves of a very high frequency (higher than the human ear can hear). If ultrasound is directed at the body, it is reflected back differently by different types of tissue. In an ultrasound scan, these differences are measured and used to build up pictures of structures in the body. Ultrasound pictures are usually taken by an ultrasound technician, who guides the scanning probe by watching the images on a screen like a television. The pictures recorded will be given to a specialist who will prepare a report, which your own doctor will discuss with you.

ultraviolet (UV) radiation–the part of sunlight that causes sunburn and skin damage. It is also produced by tanning lamps and sunbeds. Ultraviolet radiation is invisible and does not feel hot.

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