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We understand that you may be feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information you’ve been given or confused by the medical terms used, so we have compiled a breast cancer glossary, including many of the common breast cancer terminology, abbreviations and procedures.
Accessory Breast Tissue
This is a relatively common condition where there is extra breast tissue in the armpit. It is often associated with extra nipples. Most women aren’t aware of it and it is often discovered on a mammogram. No treatment is required for most patients, but it can be surgically removed if it is causing discomfort or for cosmetic reasons.
Treatment that is given after surgery in combination with other treatments, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Advanced Breast Cancer
The breast cancer has spread from the breast and the lymph nodes under the arm (the primary site) to other parts of the body (like the liver or lungs). It is also called stage 4, secondary or metastatic breast cancer.
Loss of hair from the head or body. This can be a side effect of chemotherapy as the drugs cannot distinguish between the hair cells and cancerous cells.
The circular pigmented area that surrounds the nipple.
Areola-Sparing Mastectomy (ASM)
Also referred to as Nipple-Sparing Mastectomy. This approach aims to save the nipple and areola when performing a mastectomy. It can be used when the tumour is not situated too close to the nipple or overlying skin. This procedure can improve the cosmetic results of reconstructive surgery.
This is a type of hormone therapy is used to treat post-menopausal women. It blocks the formation of oestrogen. Examples include: Arimidex (anastrozole), Aromasin (exemestane), Femara (letrozole)
Atypical Lobular Hyperplasia (ADH)
A condition where the cells in the lobules or milk-producing glands of the breast start to increase in number and develop an abnormal shape or pattern. Although benign it may be an early indication of instability in the breast.
Atypical Ductal Hyperplasia (ADH)
Hyperplasia is an abnormal overgrowth of cells. In ADH it forms in the breast milk tubes or ducts. Having ADH has been shown to increase the risk of developing breast cancer in the future so you should have regular check-ups.
The armpit area.
Axillary Clearance (also called Axillary Dissection)
A surgical procedure to remove the majority of lymph nodes from under the armpit.
Axillary Lymph Nodes
There are approximately 20 to 30 lymph nodes in each armpit. If they become infected or malignant they can increase in size. If breast cancer cells spread beyond the breast, usually the first place they spread to are the axillary lymph nodes.
Benign Breast Change (BBC)
A woman’s breasts are often changing, usually as a result of hormonal changes either during the menstrual cycle, the menopause or due to a number of benign conditions affecting the breast, such as mammary dysplasia, mastitis or fibrosis.
Most lumps found in the breast prove to be benign and are thus harmless. Usually, these are cysts, which are sacs of fluid, or fibroademomata which are a solid growth composed of either fibrous or glandular tissue.
A growth or swelling that can occur in the breast, but is not cancerous and does not spread to other parts of the body.
A sample of breast cells in tissue that are then examined under a microscope. A core biopsy uses a larger core or hollow needle and is performed under local anaesthetic.
A specialised X-ray technique that allows us to check if there are any deposits of cancerous cells in the skeletal structure. The test is performed by injecting radioactive material into the blood stream and then taking specialised x-rays.
This gene that appears on chromosome 17 and increases the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer in the future. It can be identified during genetic testing.
This gene that appears on chromosome 13 and increases the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer in the future. It can be identified during genetic testing.
Medication that can kill cancer cells by damaging them so they are unable to reproduce. It can be taken as oral medication or injected into a vein and can be combined with other cancer treatments such as radiation or surgery. These powerful drugs have a whole range of side effects as they also affect healthy fast-growing cells such as blood, hair or skin cells. Possible complications include sickness, tiredness, mouth ulcers and loss of hair.
An X-ray may be ordered to investigate whether cancer has spread to the lungs.
Assessing and diagnosing cancerous cells using a microscope.
Breast reconstruction surgery that utilises the skin and fat between the umbilicus and the groin.
The ability of cancerous cells to resist the effects of medication.
Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS)
A pre-malignant condition, DCIS is where cancerous cells have been found inside the breast ducts. They are contained in the ducts and have not spread elsewhere in the body.
Excision Biopsy with Localisation
This type of surgical biopsy is performed when an abnormality has been detected on a mammogram but cannot be felt during a physical examination. Your breast surgeon, guided by the consultant radiologist will insert a needle near the abnormality prior to the operation. The operation usually takes place under a general anaesthetic and is carried out as a day-case procedure.
A breast implant that is used in breast reconstruction. The implant is gradually inflated with saline to stretch the skin.
If you have a close female family relative (mother, sister or daughter) who has had breast cancer, then you have a higher risk of developing breast cancer in the future. However, this doesn’t mean you will definitely develop breast cancer yourself.
Fine Needle Aspiration Cytology (FNAC)
The removal of cells from the breast using a very thin needle and syringe for assessment under a microscope.
Radiotherapy treatment is split into fraction, so you will receive a certain amount of fractions over a period of time.
A technique used during surgery to perform a rapid analysis of a tissue specimen.
A single unit of hereditary information, our genes controls how our cells grow and function. Certain genes have been identified as pre-determiners for diseases such as cancer.
This is the system used by oncologists to classify cancer cells, in terms of how they differ from normal cells and how quickly they are proliferating.
All men have a small amount of breast tissue located behind the nipple, but in some men this can become abnormally enlarged, producing a breast-like appearance. The tissue should be investigated to rule out breast cancer. It can be removed for cosmetic reasons if required.
This test analyses human eipidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) protein levels to determine whether the breast cancer would respond to a type of medication called monoclonal antibodies.
Some cancers have high levels of a protein called human eipidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). If this is the case, they may respond to a group of drugs called monoclonal antibodies, such as Herceptin. The drugs stop the cells from dividing and growing and can also help the immune system destroy cancerous cells.
A doctor that has specialised in examining tissues using a microscope, known as histopathology.
Hormone Receptor Test
This is a protein on the surface of a cell that attracts a hormone that helps the cell to grow. Tests can be performed on cancerous cells to establish whether they are sensitive to hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone and, therefore, whether they can be treated with targeted hormone therapy.
A breast reconstruction that is performed immediately after a mastectomy during the same procedure.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
A rare form of aggressive cancer where the skin of the breast is also inflamed.
Breast cancer that has not yet developed the ability to spread beyond its location such as the breast ducts.
Intercostal Artery Perforator Flap
An oncoplastic technique that allows tissue from the chest wall to be recruited on a single blood vessel and placed into a defect in the breast left by a lumpectomy. It is a useful technique in dealing with small to moderate sized breasts at the time of a lumpectomy.
Cancer that can spread to other parts of the breast or body.
A genetic condition in which men have an extra female chromosome and may have an increased chance of developing breast cancer.
LD FLAP (Latissimus Dorsi Flap)
This type of breast reconstruction surgery utilises the large muscle in the back known as the latissimus dorsi.
Lobular Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS)
A pre-cancerous condition situated in the lobules or milk-producing glands. Patients with this condition must be carefully monitored as they carry an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Treatment that is targeted to a specific area of the body, such as surgery or radiotherapy.
Involves taking fat from one part of the body through liposuction and after processing it, re-injecting it into the area requiring volume replacement or smoothening
This is sometimes required to assess whether the cancer has spread to the liver.
Lumpectomy (also called Wide Local Excision)
The surgical excision of a lump in the breast tissue.
Malignant tumours are cancerous and are composed of cells that grow out of control and spread to other parts of the body.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast and can detect early signs of breast cancer.
The medical term for breast pain.
A surgical procedure to remove the whole breast.
This is where the cancerous cells have spread from the primary site to other parts of the body.
Small deposits of calcium which can be detected on a mammogram. These are usually not a result of cancer but can be a sign of pre-cancerous cells or early breast cancer.
Modified Radical Mastectomy
An operation to remove the breast and the lymph nodes situated in the armpit.
This is when there is breast cancer present in more than one area of the breast.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Image)
A sophisticated magnetic based technique used to produce cross-sectional, detailed images of the breast and are sometimes used in combination with a mammogram.
Chemotherapy treatment that is given prior to surgery to shrink the size of a tumour or to treat aggressive breast cancers.
Doctors that diagnose, treat and manage patients with cancerous tumours, using radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy treatment.
Onco Plastic Surgeon
A consultant breast surgeon that combines plastic surgery with breast surgical oncology to perform breast reconstruction
This is the technique used during a physical examination of the breast, to locate and assess the size and type of lump.
Treatment of tumours prior to surgery aimed at shrinking their size. Either chemotherapy or hormone therapy can be used.
This is an artificial breast-shaped implant that is used in breast reconstruction surgery.
A doctor that uses images gathered from X-rays, mammograms and ultrasound to diagnose breast cancer.
Radiation to destroy cancer cells, commonly used in conjunction with breast cancer surgery.
Surgical procedures aimed at rebuilding the shape of the breast after a mastectomy.
This refers to the return of breast cancer. Local breast cancer recurrence is when breast cancer comes back in the breast area while regional recurrence is when the breast cancer returns in the tissues and lymph nodes situated in the breast and neck area. Distant recurrence (also known as metastatic, advanced or secondary breast cancer) is when the cancerous cells have spread to other parts of the body.
When breast cancer signs have disappeared; can either be temporary or permanent.
A breast surgical technique that allows the breast to be reshaped after a lumpectomy.
SGAP FLAP/IGAP FLAP
Breast reconstruction surgery that uses the fat and skin from the upper or lower buttock.
Skin Sparing Mastectomy (SSM)
This breast cancer surgical procedure aims to retain most of the breast skin apart from the nipple and areola. It is often planned with immediate breast reconstruction.
Drugs that treat the whole body such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy.
Medication that is used to treat hormone-positive breast cancer. It can also to relieve breast tenderness and pain.
Also known as biological therapies, these are a group of drugs that aim to slow down the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with the growth processes of cancerous cells.
An oncoplastic technique that allows large tumours to be removed with breast conservation. The resulting breasts are reduced in size and volume and tend to be lifted up. This technique is thus often useful when treating patients with larger breasts.
A form of breast reconstruction surgery. The large muscle that runs from the lower ribs to the groin along with skin and fat tissue is used.
TUG FLAP/TMG FLAP
Breast reconstruction surgery that uses the muscle from either inner or outer upper thigh along with skin and fat.
Used to describe certain genetic breast cancers which are more likely to spread through the breast.
Another type of imaging scan that is often used in conjunction with a mammogram.
Wide Local Excision
A surgical procedure to remove the cancerous lump and the normal tissue around the edge. Sometimes called breast conserving surgery, it is usually followed with radiotherapy.
A form of hormonal therapy for breast cancer; it stops the production of a certain hormone that leads to a reduction in oestrogen. It can slow down the growth of cancerous cells or even stop them growing altogether.