Glossary of medical terms


Refers to a symptom that manifests itself, quickly worsens and then disappears.

Acute pain

Rapid onset, high intensity pain.

Adjuvant therapy

Treatment given following the main treatment (usually surgery) to reduce the possibility of cancer recurring by destroying any remaining cancer cells.


Abnormal state of general weakness and fatigue, even when rested.


A non-cancerous tumor that does not usually invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.


The removal of a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope to determine cell characteristics.

Bone marrow

The soft, spongy tissue found in the centre of large bones where blood cells are formed.

BTcP (BreakThrough cancer Pain)

A rapid onset, temporary, severe flare-up of an underlying chronic pain for which therapy is already being taken.


Weight loss, muscle atrophy and fatigue despite correct nutrition.


A collective term for many different diseases that have in common abnormal cell growth and the ability to invade nearby tissues.


A type of cancer that develops in skin or tissues that line the inside or cover the outside of internal organs.


The basic units that make up the human body.


The use of drugs to reverse, slow down, or prevent the development of cancer.


The use of drugs to destroy cancer cells (anti-neoplastic chemotherapy).


Refers to a disease, symptom or condition that persists, often slowly, over a long time.

Chronic pain

Pain that is continuously present

Complementary medicine

A diverse group of treatments, techniques, and products that are used in addition to standard cancer treatments.


Chemical substances released from a tumour or surrounding tissues that can induce or increase neuropathic pain.


Shortness of breath (SOB), difficulty breathing.


A condition of increased sensitivity to pain.

Imaging test

A procedure that produces pictures of internal body parts, tissues, or organs providing information about the condition of the patient.

Integrative medicine

A combination of medical treatments for cancer and complementary therapies to help manage cancer symptoms and the side effects of therapies.

Intense episodic pain

See BTcP

Invasive cancer (also called infiltrating cancer)

Cancer that has spread outside tissue in which it originated and grows into other tissues or parts of the body.

Laboratory test

A procedure that evaluates a sample of blood, urine, or other substance taken from the body to provide information about the condition of the patient.


A cancer of the blood caused by abnormal white blood cells that grow uncontrollably.

Localized cancer

Cancer that is confined to the area where it started and has not spread to other parts of the body.

Lymphatic system

A network of small vessels and ducts that carry fluid (lymph) from the body’s tissues to the bloodstream. It also includes organs such as: lymph nodes, appendix, tonsils, spleen, bone marrow and intestinal lymphatic follicles.


A cancer of the lymphatic system.


See Tumor

Mass effect

The pressure exerted by a growing mass (tumour) on the surrounding areas that can cause pain.

Metastasis (also called secondary cancer)

When cancer cells break away from the primary tumor and travel through the blood or the lymphatic system to form a tumor in other body parts.

Mixed pain

Pain with both neuropathic and nociceptive causes.

Neoadjuvant therapy

Treatment given before surgery to shrink a tumor so that it is easier to remove.

Neuropathic pain

Originates not from a pain receptor, but directly from injury to a nerve (peripheral neuropathic pain) or a nerve center (central neuropathic pain)

Nociceptive pain

Pain that originates from pain receptors called “nociceptors”.


See Tumor


A doctor who specialises in the treatment of cancer.

Oncology Nurse

A nurse specialised in cancer patient care.

Palliative care (also called supportive care)

Any form of treatment aimed at reducing the patient’s symptoms or the side effects of cancer therapies with the aim of improving their quality of life.


A doctor who specialises in evaluating samples of cells, tissues, or organs to diagnose disease with laboratory tests.


Abnormal growth of tissue originating from the lining of an organ (mucous membrane).

Precancerous (also called pre-malignant)

Cells that show potential characteristics to become cancerous.

Primary cancer

The primary cancer of origin, located in the site from which the cancer cells have spread to other organs and tissues (metastases).


A prediction of the outcome of a disease.

Radiation therapy

The use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells.


Cancer that has returned after a period during which it could not be detected.


A treatment plan that includes the procedures, medications and their doses, the schedule and duration of treatments.


Services and resources that help a person with cancer obtain the best physical and psychological functions during and after cancer treatment.


The temporary or permanent disappearance of the signs and symptoms of cancer but not necessarily the entire disease.


A type of cancer that develops in various supporting and connecting tissues such as fat, muscle, tendon, cartilage, bone and connective tissue in general.

Secondary cancer

A tumor caused by the spread of a primary cancer to other sites in the body (see metastasis).

Somatic pain

Pain that originates from the stimulation of the nociceptors of the skin and subcutis (superficial somatic pain) or of muscles, joints, bones (deep somatic pain); typically manifests as sensations of pulling, needle prick, or stabbing in a specific spot


The removal of cancerous tissue from the body through an operation.

Tumor (also called a nodule or mass.)

A mass of abnormal cells that change and grow uncontrollably. A tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body).

Visceral pain

Caused by nociceptors in the internal organs of the chest or abdomen, it typically manifests as dull, oppressive, or crampy and difficult to locate.