Oncology Learning Collaborative Partnership

Glossary of Terms

Acupuncture: A common practice in Chinese medicine that involves stimulating certain points on the body to promote health, or to lessen disease symptoms and treatment side effects.

Ayurvedic medicine: A system from India in which the goal is to cleanse the body and restore balance to the body, mind, and spirit. It uses diet, herbal medicines, exercise, meditation, breathing, physical therapy, and other methods.

Biofeedback: Using special machines, the patient learns how to control certain body functions that are normally out of one’s awareness (such as heart rate and blood pressure).

Biopsy: The removal and examination of abnormal tissue cells via a needle, endoscope, or surgery to identify type and stage of cancer.

Bone scan: The development of images of abnormal areas of bones produced by injecting radioactive tracer material into the bloodstream.

Botanicals: Plants or parts of plants. One type is cannabis. Others include herbs and spices such as turmeric or cinnamon (See Herbs at a Glance).

Cancer vaccines: The creation of vaccines – using cancer tumor cells or antigens, immune system cells, or cancer killing viruses – that promote the immune system’s ability to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Chiropractic therapyA type of manipulation of the spine, joints, and skeletal system.

Circulating tumor markers: An analysis of blood, urine, feces, tumors, or other tissues or bodily fluids for high levels of proteins and other substances produced when cancer is present. 

Complete blood count (CBC): A measurement of the number of red and white blood cells, platelets and hemoglobin in the blood that can help diagnose some types of cancers such as leukemias.

Computerized Tomography (CT) scan: The development of detailed 3-D images of body organs and structures through use of a specialized x-ray machine.

Creative outlets: Interests such as art, music, or dance.

Cytogenetic analysis: An analysis of chromosomes in blood, tissue, or bone marrow to identify abnormalities known to be associated with cancers. 

Dietary supplements: Products added to the diet that may contain ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, and herbs, to name a few.

Hypnosis: A trance-like state in which a person becomes more aware and focused on certain feelings, thoughts, images, sensations or behaviors. A person may feel calmer and more open to suggestions to aid in healing.

ImageryFocusing on positive images in the mind, such as imagining scenes, pictures, or experiences to help the body heal.

Immune checkpoint inhibitors: Drugs that block the normal immune system’s messaging to T-cells (white blood cells) to stop attacking abnormal cells, thus allowing T-cells to continue destroying cancer cells.

Immune system modulators: Proteins made by white blood cells that regulate the immune system to produce more white blood cells or other cells such as red blood cells and platelets that are damaged by cancer treatment; weakened tuberculosis bacteria used to fight bladder cancer; and immunomodulatory drugs that stop tumors from producing new blood vessels or increase cytokine release.

Immunophenotyping: An analysis of blood, bone marrow, body tissues or body fluids to identify cancer markers and immune system antibodies.

Liquid biopsy: An analysis of blood to identify cancer cells or DNA from tumor cells. 

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): The development of detailed images of body organs and structures in slices through use of magnets, radio waves and contrast dye.

Massage therapy: A therapy where the soft tissues of the body are kneaded, rubbed, tapped, and stroked.

Meditation: Focused breathing or repetition of words or phrases to quiet the mind and lessen stressful thoughts and feelings.

Monoclonal antibodies: The creation of immune system proteins in a lab that are administered to improve the immune system’s cancer fighting abilities by attaching to the cancer cells to make them more recognizable to T-cells, by attaching to the walls of both cancer cells and the T-cells to bring them closer together, or by carrying toxins directly to the cancer cells that kill the cells. 

Naturopathic medicine: A system that avoids drugs and surgery. It is based on the use of natural agents such as air, water, light, heat, and massage to help the body heal itself. It may also include use of herbal products, nutrition, acupuncture, and aromatherapy.

Nuclear scan: The development of images of bones or organs produced by injecting radioactive tracer material into the bloodstream.

PET scan: The development of 3-D images of multiple body sections following injection of radioactive glucose which is absorbed in greater amounts by cancer cells.

Photodynamic therapy: The administration of a photosensitizer drug followed by exposure of the cancerous tissue to infrared light.

Reflexology: A type of massage in which pressure is applied to specific points on the feet or hands, which are believed to match up with certain parts of the body.

Reiki: Placing hands lightly on or just above the person with the goal of guiding energy to help a person’s own healing response.

Sputum cytology: An analysis of lung sputum to identify abnormal cells.

Tai Chi: A form of gentle exercise and meditation that uses slow sets of body movements and controlled breathing.

T-Cell Transfer Therapy: The harvesting of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) – the fighting T-cells found in and around cancer tumors – to be treated with drugs that make them rapidly multiply so they can be returned in greater numbers to improve destruction of cancerous cells. These TILs can also be altered to produce a protein called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) that causes the T-cells to attach to cancer cell wall proteins and destroy the cancer cell walls.  

Therapeutic touch: Moving hands over energy fields of the body or gently touching a person’s body.

Traditional Chinese medicine: Based on the belief that qi (the body’s vital energy) flows along meridians (channels) in the body and keeps a person’s spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health in balance. It aims to restore the body’s balance between two forces called yin and yang.

Tumor markers: An analysis of blood, urine, feces, tumors, or other tissues or bodily fluids for high levels of proteins and other substances produced when cancer is present. 

Ultrasound: The development of sonographic images of body areas using high-energy sound waves.

Urinalysis: An analysis of urine to measure the presence of abnormal cancer-related substances such as protein, red or white blood cells and calcium.

Urine cytology: An analysis of urine to identify abnormal presence of urinary tract cells.

Vitamins: Nutrients the body needs in small amounts to function and stay healthy.

X-rays: The development of radiographic images of body parts using low doses of radiation.

Yoga: An ancient system of practices used to balance the mind and body through stretches and poses, meditation, and controlled breathing.