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For the public COLORECTAL CANCER Basic terms

Colorectal cancer: Basic terms

Adenocarcinoma – a form of cancer that involves cells from the epithelium of many different organs of the body (in this case, epithelium on the inside of large bowel).

Adjuvant therapy – treatment that is given in addition to the primary, main or initial treatment. In most cases, adjuvant therapy is given after a radical surgical treatment, but is can also be given after chemotherapy (e.g. in patients with haemato-oncological malignancies), or after radiotherapy (e.g. in patients with neck tumours). Adjuvant therapy aims to destruct the potential remains of the tumour before its further progression. Drug treatment, radiotherapy or a combination of these two modalities are used in adjuvant therapy.

Anaemia – a decrease in the amount of red blood cells (RBCs) or the amount of hemoglobin in the blood. When anaemia comes on slowly the symptoms are often vague and may include: feeling tired, weakness, shortness of breath or a poor ability to exercise. Anaemia that comes on quickly often has greater symptoms which may include: confusion, feeling like one is going to pass out, and increased thirst.

Anastomosis – the connection of two structures. It often refers to connections between tubular structures such as loops of intestine. A single term can describe which parts have been connected, such as the gastroenteroanastomosis (anastomosis between the stomach and small intestine), ileotransversoanastomosis (anastomosis between the distal part of the small intestine and the transverse colon), etc.

Antiemetic drugs – drugs effective against vomiting and nausea, induced particularly by cytostatic drugs or radiotherapy.

Benign tumour (also benign neoplasm) – a tumour that lacks all three of the malignant properties of a cancer. Thus, by definition, a benign tumour does not grow in an unlimited, aggressive manner, does not invade surrounding tissues, and does not metastasize. Many benign tumours do not need to be treated at all. If a benign tumour is causing symptoms, presents a health risk, or causes a cosmetic concern for the patient, surgery is usually the most effective approach. See also malignant tumour.

Biopsy – a medical test involving the removal of tissues (for histological examination) in order to prove or disprove a suspicion of malignant tumour. See also tumour morphology.

Cancer – general term denoting more than 100 diseases characterized by an uncontrolled cell growth. See also malignant tumour.

Carcinoid tumour (sometimes referred to as simply carcinoid) – a tumour of the neuroendocrine system. The neuroendocrine system is a network of glands that produce hormones and send them into the bloodstream to affect the function of different organs in the body.

Carcinoma – a malignant tumour that arises from epithelium.

Carcinoma in situ (CIS) – an early form of carcinoma defined by the absence of invasion of surrounding tissues. Cancerous cells have not yet penetrated the so-called “basement membrane”, which means they could not get into lymph vessels or blood vessels and form metastases elsewhere in the body.

Catheter – a thin tube extruded from medical grade materials serving a broad range of functions. Catheters can be inserted into a body cavity, duct, or vessel. Functionally, they allow drainage, administration of fluids or gases, access by surgical instruments, and also perform a wide variety of other tasks depending on the type of catheter.

Chemoradiotherapy – the combination of simultaneous chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Some chemotherapeutic drugs enhance the effectiveness of radiation, and therefore are administered simultaneously with radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy – in its most general sense, this term refers to treatment of disease by chemicals that kill cells, specifically those of micro-organisms or cancer. In popular usage, it usually refers to antineoplastic drugs used to treat cancer or the combination of these drugs into a cytotoxic standardized treatment regimen. Anticancer chemotherapeutic drugs work by impairing mitosis (cell division), effectively targeting fast-dividing cells. As these drugs cause damage to cells, they are termed cytotoxic. Most of these drugs affect all growing and dividing cells – not only cancerous cells, but also cells in healthy tissues. This is why anticancer chemotherapy has quite a lot of side effects, such as hair loss, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea etc. With respect to the side effects, chemotherapy is administered in several cycles; breaks in therapy allow the body to recover.

Colon – you can find more details in our article Colon and rectal cancer.

Colon and rectal cancer (sometimes referred to as colorectal cancer) – you can find more detail in our article Colon and rectal cancer.

Colonoscopy – a special type of endoscopic examination. You can find more details in our article Screening colonoscopy.

Colostomy – a surgical procedure in which an opening (stoma) is formed by drawing the healthy end of the large intestine or colon through an incision in the anterior abdominal wall and suturing it into place. Colostomy is performed in cases where anastomosis cannot be made after the resection of colon; in some cases, however, anastomosis can be made later, and colostomy can be removed. Permanent colostomy is necessary in cases where anal sphincter has been removed during anal surgery.

Crohn’s disease – a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that most typically affects the area where the large instestine and the small intestine connect.

Cytostatic drugs – drugs used in the therapy (chemotherapy) of malignant tumours. Cytostatic drugs have the ability to prevent the growth and proliferation of cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be divided into several groups based on factors such as how they work, their chemical structure, etc. Traditional chemotherapeutic agents are cytotoxic, that is to say they act by killing cells that divide rapidly, one of the main properties of most cancer cells. This means that chemotherapy also harms cells that divide rapidly under normal circumstances: cells in the bone marrow, digestive tract, and hair follicles. This results in the most common side effects of chemotherapy: myelosuppression (decreased production of blood cells, hence also immunosuppression), mucositis (inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract), and alopecia (hair loss).

Drug treatment – apart from surgical treatment and radiotherapy, cancer therapy is largely based on the administration of various drugs, which can be classified into three important groups: cytostatic drugs (or chemotherapeutic agents) (see chemotherapy), hormones (see hormone therapy), and targeted drugs (see targeted therapy). Individual drugs can be either administered separately (monotherapy), in various combinations (polytherapy), or in combination with irradiation (chemoradiotherapy), in adjuvant therapy, in neoadjuvant therapy, or in different lines of treatment in patients with heamato-oncological diagnoses or with advanced/metastatic solid tumours.

Endoscopy – the visual inspection of any cavity of the body by means of an endoscope. An endoscope is usually a highly flexible viewing instrument with capabilities of diagnostic (biopsy) or even therapeutic functions through special channels. Colonoscopy is a special type of endoscopy which is used to examine the internal surface of large bowel (colon).

Epithelium – the covering of internal and external surfaces of the body, including the lining of vessels and other small cavities.

Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) – an inherited condition in which numerous adenomatous polyps form mainly in the epithelium of the large intestine. While these polyps start out benign, malignant transformation into colon cancer occurs when left untreated.

FOBT – abbreviation for faecal occult blood test.

Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) – an autosomal dominant genetic condition that has a high risk of colon cancer as well as other cancers including endometrial cancer (second most common), ovary, stomach, small intestine, hepatobiliary tract, upper urinary tract, brain, and skin. The increased risk for these cancers is due to inherited mutations.

Histology (in this context, abbreviated form of histological examination) – a branch of pathology studying compact samples of tissues on microscopic level. A histological examination makes it possible to establish whether the sample has characteristics of malignant tumour, and whether it is carcinoma in situ, for example.

Hormone therapy – the use of hormones in medical treatment. Hormonal therapy in oncology is hormone therapy for cancer and is one of the major modalities of medical oncology, others being cytotoxic chemotherapy and targeted therapy. It involves the manipulation of the endocrine system through exogenous administration of specific hormones, particularly steroid hormones, or drugs which inhibit the production or activity of such hormones (hormone antagonists). Because steroid hormones are powerful drivers of gene expression in certain cancer cells, changing the levels or activity of certain hormones can cause certain cancers to cease growing, or even undergo cell death.

Infusion pump – a device which infuses fluids, medication or nutrients into a patient’s circulatory system. It is generally used intravenously, particularly in cancer therapy.

Intravenous administration of a drug – the most common way of administration of anticancer drug treatment. A needle is inserted into a vein and medication is administered through that needle. The needle is usually placed in a vein near the elbow, the wrist, or on the back of the hand.

Lymphadenectomy – the surgical removal of one or more groups of lymph nodes. It is almost always performed as part of the surgical management of cancer. In a regional lymph node dissection, some of the lymph nodes in the tumour area are removed; in a radical lymph node dissection, most or all of the lymph nodes in the tumour area are removed.

Lymphoma – a type of cancer that originates in lymphocytes of the immune system. They often originate in lymph nodes, presenting as an enlargement of the node (a tumour).

Malignant tumour (also malignant neoplasm) – a group of cells displaying uncontrolled growth (division beyond the normal limits), invasion (intrusion on and destruction of adjacent tissues), and sometimes metastasis (spread to other locations in the body via lymph or blood). Malignant tumour is synonymous with cancer. See also benign tumour.

Metastasis (pl. metastases) – the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. A tumour formed by cells that have spread is called a “metastatic tumour” or a “metastasis.” The metastatic tumour contains cells that are like those in the original (primary) tumour.

Metastasize – to create metastases.

Monoclonal antibody therapy – a form of immunotherapy that uses monoclonal antibodies to specifically bind to target cells or proteins. This may then stimulate the patient’s immune system to attack those cells.

Neoadjuvant therapy – treatment given as a first step to shrink a tumour before the main treatment, which is usually surgery, is given. Examples of neoadjuvant therapy include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and hormone therapy.

Pain management – a branch of medicine employing an interdisciplinary approach for easing the suffering and improving the quality of life of those living with pain.

Palliative therapy – a treatment that is designed to relieve symptoms, and improve the quality of life, rather than cure an illness. It can be used at any stage of an illness if there are troubling symptoms, such as pain or sickness. In advanced cancer, palliative treatment may help someone to live longer and to live comfortably, even if they cannot be cured. Palliative treatment can also mean using medicines to reduce or control the side effects of cancer treatments.

Pathologist – a doctor who diagnoses and characterizes diseases in living patients by examining biopsies or bodily fluids. The vast majority of cancer diagnoses are made or confirmed by a pathologist. Pathologists may also conduct autopsies to investigate causes of death.

Polyp – outgrowth (usually benign), protruding from a mucous membrane.

Radiation therapy (also radiotherapy) – the medical use of ionizing radiation as part of cancer treatment to control malignant cells. There are two main types of radiotherapy, depending on the position of the radiation source: external beam radiotherapy, in which the radiation source is located outside the body, and brachytherapy, where a sealed radioactive source is placed precisely in the area under treatment (i.e., in body cavities or in tissues).

Recurrence – a cancer that has recurred (come back), usually after a period of time during which the cancer could not be detected. The cancer may come back to the same place as the original (primary) tumour or to another place in the body. See also relapse.

Relapse – the return of signs and symptoms of cancer after a period of improvement. This term mainly refers to diseases which cannot be completely cured; any treatment can only relieve their symptoms. See also recurrence.

Remission – a decrease in or disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer. In partial remission, some, but not all, signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared. In complete remission, all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared, although cancer still may be in the body. A remission can be followed by a relapse; if there is no relapse after a long time (five years after the end of cancer treatment, for example), the disease is considered to have been cured.

Screening – examination of people with no symptoms, to detect unsuspected disease. You can find more information in our article Colorectal cancer screening.

Supportive therapy – a therapy which is not aimed directly against the malignant tumour. The supportive therapy prevents or reduces the side effect of anticancer therapy, making it possible for the patient to undergo the anticancer therapy. The supportive therapy also reduces the symptoms of malignant tumour, thus stabilising or even improving the patient’s quality of life.

Surgical treatment – removal of the tumour and surrounding tissue during an operation. Surgery is the oldest type of cancer therapy and remains an effective treatment for many types of cancer today. The goals of surgery vary. It is often used to remove all or some of the cancerous tissue after diagnosis. However, it can also be used to diagnose cancer, find out where the cancer is located, whether it has spread, and whether it is affecting the functions of other organs in the body.

Targeted therapy – a special type of chemotherapy that takes advantage of small differences between normal cells and cancer cells. Targeted cancer therapies are drugs or other substances that interfere with specific molecules involved in cancer cell growth and survival. Traditional chemotherapy drugs, by contrast, act against all actively dividing cells. Targeted cancer therapies that have been approved for use against specific cancers include agents that prevent cell growth signalling, interfere with tumour blood vessel development, promote the death of cancer cells, stimulate the immune system to destroy cancer cells, and deliver toxic drugs to cancer cells.

Tumour markers – substances that are produced by cancer or by other cells of the body in response to cancer or certain benign (noncancerous) conditions. Most tumour markers are made by normal cells as well as by cancer cells; however, they are produced at much higher levels in cancerous conditions. These substances can be found in the blood, urine, stool, tumour tissue, or other tissues or bodily fluids of some patients with cancer. Most tumour markers are proteins. However, more recently, patterns of gene expression and changes to DNA have also begun to be used as tumour markers. Markers of the latter type are assessed in tumour tissue specifically.

Tumour morphology – determination of type and other characteristics of tumour. A malignant tumour can be suspected from the results of various examinations, but the final diagnosis can only be established on the basis of morphological examination of the suspected tissue. The morphological examination is performed by a pathologist, who examines a tumour removed during an operation, or its sample acquired by the biopsy.

Ulcerative colitis – a form of colitis, a disease of the colon, that includes characteristic ulcers, or open sores.

Ultrasonography – a procedure that uses high-energy sound waves to look at tissues and organs inside the body. The sound waves make echoes that form pictures of the tissues and organs on a computer screen (sonogram). Ultrasound may be used to help diagnose diseases, such as cancer.

X-ray – a type of radiation used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases. In low doses, x-rays are used to diagnose diseases by making pictures of the inside of the body. In high doses, x-rays are used to treat cancer.

Adapted from www.linkos.cz, the official information portal of the Czech Society for Oncology.


Last updated on 25 February 2015