Glossary of Common Terms in Lung Cancer


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National Lung Screening Trial (NLST):  National Institutes of Health-funded clinical trial that found using a low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer can reduce mortality due to lung cancer.

Natural killer (NK) cells:  A type of white blood cell that patrols the body and is on constant alert, seeking foreign invaders. Once NK cells recognize a cell as abnormal, they release granules (small particles) with enzymes that can kill tumor cells or cells infected with a virus

NED:  Acronym for "no evidence of disease."

Neoadjuvant:  Treatment given prior to the main treatment in order to shrink a tumor. Examples of neoadjuvant therapy include chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy prior to surgery.

Neoplasm:  An abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Neoplasms may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Also called "tumor."

Neuropathy:  A nerve problem that causes pain, numbness, tingling, swelling or muscle weakness in different parts of the body. It usually begins in the hands or feet and gets worse over time. Neuropathy may be caused by cancer or cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or surgery. May also be called "peripheral neuropathy."

Neutropenia:  A condition in which there are fewer than normal neutrophils (a type of white blood cell), leading to increased susceptibility to infection.

Nodule:  A growth or lump that may be malignant (cancer) or benign.

Non-contrast:  Refers to an imaging test that does not make use of contrast agent.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC):  A group of lung cancers that are named for the kinds of cells found in the cancer and how the cells look under a microscope. The three main types of non-small cell lung cancer are squamous cell carcinoma, large cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common kind of lung cancer.


Oncologist:  A doctor who specializes in treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer or cancer treatment. For example, a thoracic oncologist specializes in treating lung, esophageal, pleural, mediastinal and chest wall tumors. A medical oncologist specializes in treating cancer with chemotherapy. A radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation.

Overall survival:  The length of time from either the date of diagnosis or the start of treatment for a disease, such as cancer, that patients diagnosed with the disease remain alive. In a clinical trial, measuring the effect on overall survival is one way to see how well a new treatment works.

Overexpression:  The expression of too many copies of a protein or other substance. Overexpression of certain proteins or other substances may play a role in cancer development.


Palliative care:  Care given to improve the quality of life of patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease. The goal is to provide patients with relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness. Also called "palliation," "comfort care" and "supportive care."

Pancoast tumor:  A type of lung cancer that begins in the upper part of a lung and spreads to nearby tissues such as the ribs and vertebrae. Most pancoast tumors are non-small cell cancers. Also called "pulmonary sulcus tumor."

Partial response:  A decrease of at least 30 percent in the size of a tumor or in the extent of cancer in the body in response to treatment. Also called "partial remission."

Pathologist:  A doctor who identifies diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope or with other equipment.

Pathology report:  The description of cells and tissues made by a pathologist based on what is seen under a microscope. This is sometimes used to make a diagnosis of lung cancer or another disease. May also be referred to in short form as “path report” or even “the path.”

Patient navigator:  Someone who provides personal guidance to patients as they move through the healthcare system. Patient navigators may have professional medical, legal, financial or administrative experience. Other navigators may have personally faced healthcare-related challenges and want to help others in similar situations. Navigators can be employed by community groups, hospitals or insurance companies. They may be paid by those organizations, they may be volunteers, or they may be independent consultants hired by people who want help managing their complex medical needs.

PD-1/PD-L1, programmed death 1/programmed death 1 ligand:  Part of the immune system mechanism that keeps T cells from functioning.

Pelvic inflammatory disease:  A condition in which the female reproductive organs are inflamed. It may affect the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and certain ligaments. Pelvic inflammatory disease is usually caused by a bacterial infection. It may cause infertility and an increased risk of an ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy in the fallopian tubes). Also called "PID."

Perforation:  A hole that develops through the whole wall of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large bowel, rectum or gallbladder.

Performance status:  A measure of how well a patient is able to perform ordinary tasks and carry out daily activities.

Periphery:  The outermost part or region within a precise boundary.

PET-CT scan:  A special scan that is able to do a positron emission tomography (PET) scan and a computed tomography (CT) scan at the same time. It allows the doctor to compare areas of radioactivity on the PET with the more detailed appearance of that area on the CT. Also called "positron emission tomography-computed tomography scan."

PET scan:  A scan in which a small amount of radioactive sugar is injected into a vein and a special camera creates a picture of areas in the body where the sugar is taken up. Because cancer cells often take up more sugar than normal cells, the PET scan is used to find cancer cells in the body. Also called "positron emission tomography scan."

Phase I research study:  A study in which researchers test a new drug or treatment in a small group of people for the first time to evaluate its safety, determine a safe dosage range and identify side effects.

Phase II research study:  A study in which the drug or treatment is given to a larger group of people to see if it is effective and to further evaluate its safety.

Phase III research study:  A study in which the drug or treatment is given to large groups of people to confirm its effectiveness, monitor side effects, compare it to commonly used treatments, and collect information that will allow the drug or treatment to be used safely. Once Phase III is completed, the drug or treatment can be submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval.

Photdynamic therapy (PDT):  Treatment with drugs that become active when exposed to light. These activated drugs may kill cancer cells.

Phlegm:  Thick mucus made by the cells lining the upper airways and lungs.

Platelet:  Type of blood cell responsible for blood clotting. Platelets are found in the blood and spleen.

Pleomorphic:  Occurring in various distinct forms; in terms of cells, having variation in the size and shape of cells or their nuclei.

Pleura:  A thin layer of tissue that cover the lungs and lines the inside wall of the chest cavity. It protects and cushions the lungs. The fluid it secretes allows the lungs to move smoothly in the chest cavity while a person is breathing.

Pleural cavity:  The space enclosed by the pleura, a thin layer of tissue that covers the lung and lines the inside wall of the chest cavity.

Pleural effusion:  Fluid around the lungs.

Pneumonectomy:  Surgery to remove an entire lung.

Pneomonia:  A severe inflammation of all or part of the lungs in which the tiny air sacs called alveoli are filled with fluid. Symptoms include cough, fever and trouble breathing.

Pneumonitis: Inflammation of the lungs that may be caused by disease, infection, radiation or other therapy, allergy, or irritation of lung tissue by inhaled substance.

Pneumothorax:  An abnormal collection of air or gas in the space between the lung and the chest wall.

Primary tumor:  A term used to describe the original, or first, tumor in the body.

Prognosis:  The likely outcome or course of a disease; the chance of recovery or recurrence.

Progression-free survival (PFS):  The length of time during and after the treatment of a disease, such as cancer, that a patient lives with the disease but it does not get worse. In a clinical trial, measuring the effect on progression-free survival is one way to see how well a new treatment works.

Progressive disease:  An increase of at least 20 percent in the size of a tumor or in the extent of cancer in the body.

Proliferating:  Multiplying or increasing in number.

Prophylactic cranial irradiation:  Radiation therapy to the brain to reduce the risk of cancer spreading to that organ.

Protein:  A molecule made up of amino acids needed for the body to function properly. Proteins are the basis of body structures, such as skin and hair, and of other substances such as enzymes, cytokines and antibodies.

Protocol:  A detailed plan of a scientific or medical experiment, treatment or procedure. In clinical trials, it states what the study will do, how it will be done and why it is being done. It explains how many people will be in the study, who is eligible to take part in it, what study drugs or other interventions will be given, what tests will be done and how often, and what information will be collected.

Proton:  A small, positively charged particle of matter found in the atoms of all elements.

Proton therapy:  A type of radiation therapy that uses streams of protons (tiny particles with a positive charge) to kill tumor cells. This type of treatment can reduce the amount of radiation damage to healthy tissue near a tumor. It is used to treat cancers of the head and neck and organs such as the brain, eye, lung, spine and prostate.

Pruritus:  Itching of the skin.

Pseudoprogression:  Growth in tumor size that is due to response to treatment and not to growth of cancer cells.

Pulmonary rehabilitation:  Behavior and lifestyle changes to help patients with chronic lung disease decrease breathing problems, return to daily activities and improve quality of life. Education may include instruction about breathing exercises, nutrition, use of medicines, and ways for the patient to reduce stress and save energy.

Pulmonologist:  A doctor who specializes in lung disease.


Radiation oncologist:  A doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer.

Radiation therapy:  The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy) or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy). Also called "irradiation" and "radiotherapy."

Radon:  A radioactive gas that is released by uranium, a substance found in soil and rock. Breathing in too much radon can damage lung cells and may lead to lung cancer.

Recurrent lung cancer:  Lung cancer that has come back after a period of time during which the cancer could not be detected. The lung cancer may come back in the lung near the original tumor, in lymph nodes or in a distant organ.

Regional chemotherapy:  Treatment with anticancer drugs directed to a specific area of the body.

Ralapse-free survival:  In lung cancer, the length of time after primary treatment for the cancer ends that the patient survives without any signs or symptoms of that cancer. In a clinical trial, measuring the relapse-free survival is one way to see how well a new treatment works. Also called "DFS," "disease-free survival" and "RFS."

Relative survival rate:  A way of comparing the survival of people who have a specific disease with those who don’t, over a certain period of time (usually 5 years) from the date of diagnosis or the start of treatment for those with the disease. It is calculated by dividing the percentage of patients with the disease who are still alive at the end of the period of time by the percentage of people in the general population of the same sex and age who are alive at the end of the same time period. The relative survival rate shows whether the disease shortens life.

Resectable:  Able to be removed by surgery.

Respiratory tract:  The organs that are involved in breathing. These include the nose, throat, larynx, trachea, bronchi and lungs. Also called "respiratory system."

Restaging:  Staging lung cancer after a recurrence.


Segmentectomy:  Surgical removal of a section of a lobe of the lung. Also called "segmental resection."

Sleeve resection:  Surgery to remove a lung tumor that is in a lobe of the lung and in the main bronchus, or airway. The tumor is removed, and the ends of the bronchus are rejoined and any remaining lobes are reattached to the bronchus. This surgery is done to save part of the lung. Also called "sleeve lobectomy.”

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC):  A fast-growing cancer that forms in tissues of the lung and can spread to other parts of the body. Named "small" for how the cancer cells look under a microscope.

Spirometer:  An apparatus for measuring the movement of air into and out of the lungs.

Sputum cytology:  Examination under a microscope of cells found in sputum brought up from the lungs by coughing. The test checks for abnormal cells, such as lung cancer cells.

Squamous cell carcinoma:  A type of non-small cell lung cancer that usually starts near a central bronchus. It begins in squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that look like fish scales.

Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT):  A type of external radiation therapy that uses special equipment to position a patient and precisely deliver extremely high doses of radiation to the tumor while decreasing the dose to healthy tissue nearby. Instead of giving small doses of radiation each day for several weeks, SBRT can be given in two to five treatments.

Sterotactic radiosurgery (SRS):  A type of stereotactic body radiation therapy that is given in a single large dose of radiation to a tumor.

Support group:  A group of individuals sharing similar experiences providing help such as listening, storytelling and resources.


Targeted cancer therapies:  A type of treatment that uses drugs to attack specific types of cancer cells with less harm to normal cells. Some targeted therapies block the action of certain enzymes, proteins or other molecules involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells.

Therapeutic cancer vaccine:  A type of treatment, using a vaccine that is usually made from a patient’s own tumor cells or from substances taken from tumor cells. A cancer vaccine may help the immune system kill cancer cells.

Thorcentesis:  Removal of fluid from around the lungs through a hollow needle inserted between the ribs.

Thoracic surgeon:  A surgeon specially trained in operating on people with lung cancer.

Thorocotomy:  An incision made between the ribs in the side of the chest to open up the chest. This surgery is used to examine the lung and to remove tumor, surrounding tissue and nearby lymph nodes.

Three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT):  A form of external radiation therapy that uses special computers to precisely map the location of the tumor. Radiation beams are shaped and aimed at the tumor from several directions, which makes it less likely to damage normal tissues.

Thrombocytopenia:  A condition in which there are fewer platelets in the blood than normal. It may result in easy bruising and excessive bleeding from wounds or bleeding in mucous membranes and other tissues.

Trachea:  The airway that leads from the larynx (voice box) to the bronchi (large airways that lead to the lungs). Also called "windpipe."

Transthoracic needle biopsy:  A procedure in which an interventional radiologist inserts a needle into the chest wall to remove fluid or tissue.

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors:  A type of targeted therapy that blocks the action of enzymes called tyrosine kinases in order to keep cancer cells from growing. Also called "TKIs.”


Wedge resection:  Surgery to remove a triangle-shaped slice of tissue. It may be used to remove a tumor and a small amount of normal tissue around.

Wheezing:  A whistling-type noise that may occur while breathing because of narrowing of the small airways of the lungs.



Source:  LUNGevity

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Page last updated on September 19, 2017