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Breast Cancer Glossary




Indicates a condition that is not cancerous. Benign growths do not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.
Also see related article -> Benign Breast Lumps.

Biological Response Modifiers
These act to boost the immune system. Examples are: antibodies, monoclonal antibodies, vaccines, colony stimulating factors.

Biological Therapy
Treatment to stimulate or restore the ability of the immune system to fight infection and disease. Also used to lessen side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments. Also called immunotherapy or biological response modifier (BRM) therapy.

Biomarkers are defined as cellular, biochemical, molecular, or genetic alterations by which a normal, abnormal, or simply biologic process can be recognized, or monitored. These substances are usually in the blood, other body fluids, or tissues when cancer is present. CA 15-3 is a common biomarker for breast cancer. New biomarkers are being researched. They are good diagnostic tools for finding out if cancer has spread or come back before symptoms appear.

A diagnostic procedure used to obtain cells or tissues in order to examine them under a microscope to check for signs of disease. When an entire tumor or lesion is removed, it is called an excisional biopsy. If only a sample of tissue is removed, it is called an incisional biopsy biopsy. When a sample of tissue or fluid is removed with a needle, the procedure is called a core-needle biopsy or fine-needle aspiration. The core-needle biopsy removes a larger portion of the cells to be examined than the fine-needle biopsy. Also see in Resources -> Breast Cancer Diagnosis.

This class of drugs slows bone loss later in life and strengthen bones damaged by metastases.

The application of the principles of engineering and technology to the life sciences, for example, using biological substances to create new drugs.

Blood-Brain Barrier
A thin membrane that protects the spinal fluid and brain from foreign substances. It may prevent the use of some chemotherapy drugs in treating tumors in the central nervous system.

Bone Marrow
The soft, fatty, sponge like tissue at the center of  the long bones that produces white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

Bone Marrow Biopsy
The diagnostic procedure used to determine whether cancer cells have invaded the bone marrow. This test is usually done in a doctor's office under a local anesthetic. It involves inserting a hollow needle into one of the large bones, usually the hip. The term aspiration is used when a smaller sample is taken.

Bone Marrow Depression (or Suppression)
A side effect of chemotherapy treatment, where the bone marrow isn't able to make a normal number of red and white blood cells, and platelets. This can cause immune system impairment.

Bone Marrow Harvest and Transplantation (HDC/BMT)
Bone marrow withdrawn, or "harvested," from the patient (autologous) under general anesthesia, frozen, and later transplanted (re-introduced into the blood stream) to support the patient's own bone marrow, that has been severely compromised by high dose chemotherapy (HDC). Peripheral, or circulating stem cells gathered through a process called "pheresis" are now more commonly used in most autologous transplants. See also autologous bone marrow transplant and high dose chemotherapy.

Bone Metastasis
Spread of cancer to the bone, a common site of metastatic breast cancer. Most commonly presents with pain, and can be confirmed by CT Scan, MRI and x-ray studies. Sometimes a biopsy is done to confirm the diagnosis. Treatments include radiation and chemo-hormonal therapy.

Bone Scan
A harmless radioactive substance is injected prior to this test to give a picture of the entire skeleton, showing areas of increased "uptake" of the radioactive substance. These areas are referred to as "hot spots."  Bone metastases, where cells are dividing rapidly, show on a bone scan. Hot spots may also be caused by arthritis, infection or injury.

Brain Metastasis
Spread of cancer to the brain, another common site of metastatic breast cancer. Symptoms may include headaches, visual disturbances, vomiting, seizures, loss of balances and other neurological signs. Diagnosed through CT Scans and MRI, and most often treated with radiation therapy.

This gene was named for the fact that a mutation is associated with a higher than normal risk of developing BReast CAncer. Since not all breast cancer patients have a mutation in this or the BRCA2 gene, these are not the only genes involved in breast cancer. Also see in Resources -> Genetics & Breast Cancer.

Another gene, unrelated to BRCA1, which when mutated, is associated with higher than normal risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. Also see related article -> Mapping the Breast Cancer Gene.

Breast Calcifications
Small deposits of calcium in the breast, visible on mammograms, that are usually not signs of cancer.

Breast Cancer
Any cancer that starts in the breast. The primary types are: ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), infiltrating ductal carcinoma, invasive lobular carcinoma, lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS), medullary carcinoma, inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) and Paget's disease of the nipple. Also see -> Breast Cancer 101.

Breast Conservation Surgery
Surgery to remove the cancerous area of the breast and only a small area of normal tissue around it.

Breast Reconstruction
Surgery to rebuild a breast after a mastectomy. Also see in Resources -> Breast Cancer & Prosthetics.

Breast Self Exam (BSE)
Monthly examination and inspection of a woman's own breasts -- with breast clinical exam and mammography, an essential part of breast care. Also see in Features -> How to Do a Self Breast Exam.






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