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Cancer (glossary)

Angiogenesis
The physiological process by which new blood vessels grows around a tumor, allowing the tumor to stock up and grow.

Antioxidant
Antioxidants are substances that can neutralize or reduce the damage caused by free radicals in the body. The body produces antioxidants, and it is also found in many foods. The main antioxidants are vitamins C and E, carotenoids and selenium.

Apoptosis
Phenomenon of natural death of cells; at the end of their normal cycle, the cells die without leaving any cellular debris.

Benin, benign
Qualifier to say that a physiological phenomenon (of cancerous nature in the case which interests us) does not present – at the moment of the report – any danger. A benign tumor may, however, develop and reach a malignant stage.

Biopsy
The collection of a small portion of human tissue (skin, mucous membrane, gland, etc.) for laboratory analysis.

Cachexia
A serious clinical form of protein-calorie malnutrition, occurring in some people with cancer, especially cancers of the digestive system. Cachexia is characterized by a loss of muscle tissue and subcutaneous adipose tissue, and a body weight that is much lower than normal. Between 4% and 23% of cancer deaths are caused by cachexia.

Cancer
A general term for all phenomena that are characterized by abnormal growth of cells leading to a malignant tumor.

Carcinogenic
Able to cause or promote the development of cancer. (It is now recommended that carcinogens bepreferred to carcinogens .)

Carcinogenesis (also called carcinogenesis ) All
the mechanisms that cause the formation and development of cancers. The essential mechanism of carcinogenesis is the activation of certain oncogenes. Several types of activation may occur, which may correspond to several stages of carcinogenesis.

Carcinoma
One of the three major types of cancer. Carcinomas develop from the epithelium (in France, a carcinoma is commonly called epithelioma ); the epithelium is a non-vascularized tissue that covers the skin, the inner lining of the respiratory, digestive, urinary and genital systems, which constitutes the bulk of the glands. The most common cancers (lung, breast, stomach, skin and cervix) are carcinomas.

Chemotherapy A
type of treatment that uses chemicals that have a direct effect on diseased cells, either by destroying them or by preventing their proliferation. Unfortunately, products used in chemotherapy (by injection or tablets) are likely to have a serious negative effect on certain healthy tissues. Moreover, since some of these drugs are targeted at the rapidly developing cells – as cancer cells are – they inevitably reach other rapidly developing cells, such as bone marrow, hair follicles, intestinal mucosa and mouth, hence phenomena such as hair loss.

Cytotoxic
A chemical that has a poison effect on living cells. Cytotoxic drugs used to treat cancer are designed to affect only certain types of cells.

Epithelioma
See carcinoma.

Estrogen-receptor positive
is a hormone-dependent cancer in which “receptors” are detected to which the estrogen binds to activate the tumor. To our knowledge, there is no French equivalent of this expression.

Hormone-dependent
A cancer that is found in tissues that are sensitive to natural sex hormones, such as the breast or the endometrium, and that is stimulated by these hormones.

Immunotherapy A
mode of treatment that stimulates the immune system to fight infection and disease. This approach is also called biotherapy , biological therapy, or modification of the biological response .

In situ
Carcinomas are strictly localized and have no invasiveness. Medicine has not yet decided whether this is a particular type of cancer that will always remain localized, or whether it is a cancer that may be localized for a very long time but is intended later to become invasive.

Interleukin
A natural immune system agent that is normally deficient in cancer patients and is often given to them as a medicine in conventional immunotherapy.

Invasive
This is a type of cancer that can form metastases.

Leukemia
Disease, of which there are several variants, characterized by a proliferation of white blood cells (leucocytes) in the bone marrow; as it is in the marrow that the principal elements of the blood (including the red blood cells) are formed, this production is disturbed. Leukemic cells can also invade certain organs.

Tumor lymphoma (there are several types) due to proliferation of lymphoid tissue cells, found mainly in the lymph nodes and spleen.

Tumor melanoma that develops in melanocytes, cells that produce melanin (pigment) and are found in the skin, eyes and hair. If, in general, skin cancers are not very dangerous, the melanomas that form in the moles are among the most malignant cancers.

Malignant, malignant
A malignant tumor invades the surrounding tissues to cause metastases  ; it spreads through the blood or lymphatic circulation.

Metastasis
There are metastases of various kinds (microbial, parasitic or tumoral), but the term is commonly used to describe the progress of cancer cells. In this sense, a metastasis is a secondary focus of cancer, some distance from the original malignancy.

Tumor myeloma composed of cells of the bone marrow from which it comes.

Neoplasm
A medical term for a tumor.

Oncogene
Gene that has been mutated and that, when “activated”, can stimulate the uncontrolled proliferation of cells. In most living organisms, some genes undergo, at one time or another, this mutation which makes them oncogenes; we can say that living organisms already have oncogenes in their own cells. Oncogenes can be activated by various environmental factors (ultraviolet rays, tobacco smoke, asbestos particles, viruses, etc.)

Oncology
Branch of medicine dedicated to the study and treatment of cancers; the doctors specialized in this discipline are oncologists. We also say oncology .

Phytoestrogens
Present in certain plants, these chemical compounds is very weak estrogens but whose property of binding to the estrogen receptors allows them to counteract the harmful effect of these. The two main categories are: isoflavones (mostly in soybeans, licorice and red clover) and lignans (in whole grains, especially flax, and some fruits and vegetables).

Progesteron-receptor positive
is a hormone-dependent cancer in which “receptors” are detected to which progesterone binds to activate the tumor. To our knowledge, there is no French equivalent of this expression.

Free radicals
Atoms which, as a result of a normal oxygen-related phenomenon, are found with a “free” electron; once they reach this state, the atoms in question “oxidize” other atoms, causing chain reactions. It is believed that when the proliferation of free radicals exceeds the ability of the body to neutralize them, they play an important role in the aging and development of many diseases. Many scientists support the (unproven) theory that free radicals can cause cancer to appear. Antioxidants are substances that can neutralize or reduce the damage caused by free radicals in the body.

Radiotherapy A
type of treatment that uses ionizing radiation emitted by certain radioactive elements such as radium. When these rays pass through diseased tissue, they destroy abnormal cells or slow their development. Radiation therapy is used in several circumstances:
– as the main means of treating certain cancers;
after a malignant tumor has been removed by surgery, to destroy the remaining cancer cells;
– as a palliative treatment, to reduce the size of an incurable cancer in order to relieve the patient.

Recurrence
of cancer after a long period of time during which it was in remission.

Remission
Disappearing symptoms of a disease. In the case of cancer, we always talk about remission rather than cure.

Sarcoma
Sarcomas develop from a blood vessel, fibrous tissue that supports the organs, or connective tissue (such as cartilage). Bone cancers are sarcomas; Kaposi’s sarcoma, common in people with AIDS, mainly affects the skin.

Tumor An
abnormal mass of tissue (flesh) that results from an uncontrolled process of cell multiplication. The tumor may be benign or malignant.

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