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Information central for parenting with breast cancer.


Age-appropriate definitions for cancer-related terms

ANESTHESIA - drugs that doctors give patients so they feel no pain during surgery.

AREOLA - a small ring of color. Men and women have a ring of pink, red or brown skin around their nipples. The ring is usually larger on women’s breasts. (illustration)

ARTERY - a special kind of tube in your body that carries blood away from the heart.

BENIGN TUMOR - a tumor that does not spread to other parts of the body.

BIOPSY - looking at a group of cells to get more information. Sometimes a doctor can’t get enough information by looking at the outside of a person’s body. He will do a biopsy by taking a tiny group of cells from a person’s body. Then he will look at the cells very closely under a microscope to find the information he needs.

BLOOD - liquid that carries cells, oxygen, and nutrition to all parts of the body. The blood flows through arteries, veins, and the heart. Some cells in the blood help us fight infections, and some of the cells help us stop bleeding. (illustration)

BONE MARROW - the soft inside of bones where blood cells are made.

BREAST - the part of a woman’s body that makes milk for her babies. Men also have breasts, but they do not make milk. Women’s breasts only make milk when the woman has recently had a baby. (illustration)

CANCER - cells growing out of control. When cells grow out of control, they can cause problems by crowding out or growing into other parts of the body. That’s why doctors need to get rid of cancer. (Also “malignancy” or “neoplasm”)

CARCINOGEN - something that causes cancer. Some of the things that can cause cancer are cigarette smoke and some chemicals. Doctors don’t always know what causes cancer.

CELLS - the smallest building blocks of our bodies. Every living thing is built from cells. Cells are like very tiny Lego pieces. Just like Legos come in many shapes, sizes and colors, living things are made up of many different kinds of cells. Cells are too tiny for a person to see without a microscope.

CHEMOTHERAPY - drugs that kill cancer cells. Cancer cells are fast-growing cells that don’t follow the normal rules for growing and behaving. Other fast-growing cells that are not cancer are found in the mouth, stomach, skin, and hair. Chemotherapy drugs are very strong. Sometimes chemotherapy can damage these other fast-growing cells along with the cancer cells. Almost always these cells grow back normally, but the cancer cells usually do not grow back.

CYST - a lump filled with fluid.

DIAGNOSIS - finding the cause of a problem. When a doctor thinks someone has cancer, he does tests to find out what’s causing the problem. Sometimes the doctor will find cancer, and sometimes he won’t.

DISTANT CANCER - cancer that moves from the place where it started to another part of the body.

DRAIN - a tube that lets extra liquid out of the body. After an operation, our bodies make liquid to help us heal. Sometimes a doctor will put a drain into a person’s body at the end of the operation. The drain lets the extra liquid find a way out of our bodies after it has done its job. This helps the body heal even faster. The doctor will take out the drain a week or so after an operation. (illustration)

ESTROGEN - a natural body chemical or hormone that every girl’s body makes to help her breasts grow. Boys have this hormone, too, but in much smaller amounts.

GENES - information from your parents’ bodies that’s built into your body. Genes are on chromosomes in your cells, and they are like a map passed on from your birth parents. Genes help tell your body how to grow, and they make your body special. If you have blue eyes like your dad, you may have his “blue eyes” gene. If you are very tall like your mom, you may have her “tall” genes.

GYNECOLOGIST - doctors who are experts in keeping women healthy. Gynecologists are experts on the body parts that only women have, especially the parts that help make children grow.

HORMONES - a chemical in our bodies that tells us when to grow or change. Hormones are made by cells in your body, and they are carried by the blood to work on other parts of the body. Some hormones tell your body when to grow and when to stop growing. Some hormones help girls’ bodies get ready to make babies.

HYSTERECTOMY - removing a woman’s uterus. Sometimes doctors remove a woman’s uterus as part of her cancer treatment. A hysterectomy is done by surgery. (illustration)

IMMUNE SYSTEM - the body’s way of protecting itself from infection and disease.

IMPLANTS - sacs that doctors use to create the shape of a breast. The sacs are filled with saline or silicone. During surgery, doctors place the sac underneath a woman’s chest muscle. (illustration)

INFERTILITY - when a person cannot make a baby. Infertility happens for many reasons. Sometimes the things that cure cancer can cause infertility. Infertility is nobody’s fault.

IV (INTRAVENOUS) - a tube that carries liquids into a person’s body through veins. An IV can carry many things a body needs like medicine, water, extra blood, and even food. IV’s do not hurt. They usually stay in place for only a short time. (illustration)

LOBE, LOBULE - the part of the breast where milk is made. Each breast has 15 to 20 lobes, and each lobe has many smaller lobules. (illustration)

LOCAL RECURRENCE - when cancer comes back to the spot where it was originally found.

LUMPECTOMY - removing a lump that doesn’t belong in the body. (illustration)

LYMPH - a clear liquid that carries fluid and some blood cells through the body. Lymph carries away some things your body doesn’t need, like bacteria. It also carries some things your body does need, like some red blood cells, some white blood cells, fat and protein.

LYMPH NODES - small clumps in different parts of the body that clean the lymph liquid. Sometimes you can feel your lymph nodes when you get a cold. You might be able to feel them under your jaw or on the sides of your neck.

LYMPHEDEMA - swelling of the arm that can happen after breast cancer treatment. Lymph fluid can build up in a woman’s arm when some of her lymph nodes have been removed or damaged from surgery or radiation.

MALIGNANT TUMOR - a tumor that spreads either to nearby or to far away parts of the body.

MAMMOGRAM - an x-ray of the inside of a breast. These pictures let doctors take a very close look at the breast. The doctor can see if the breast is healthy or if it has spots that might not be healthy.

MASTECTOMY - removing a breast from a person’s body. Sometimes doctors remove a person’s breast if it has cancer. (illustration)

MENOPAUSE - a change in hormones that happens as women grow older. After menopause, women can no longer grow babies. Every woman goes through menopause at some time.

METASTASIS - cancer cells that travel to different parts of the body. These cells can travel in the blood and in the lymph.

MICROSCOPE - a machine that make very tiny things look bigger so people can see them better. Some parts of the body, like cells, are too tiny to see without a microscope.

MILK DUCT - tiny tubes in the breast that carry milk to the nipple. (illustration)

MUTATION - a change in the information that genes carry.

NIPPLE - the part of the breast that sticks out so babies can drink their mother’s milk. (illustration)

NUCLEUS - the center part of a cell that holds genes.

ONCOLOGIST - a doctor who treats people who have (or had) cancer.


OVARIES - the parts of a woman’s body that make and store egg cells. Egg cells may grow into babies. (illustration)

PALLIATIVE - to help someone feel better and be in less pain.

PATHOLOGY - the study of sickness and looking for things in the body that are not normal.

PLASTIC SURGEON - a doctor who changes the look of a person’s body. Some surgery, like surgery to remove a tumor, can make a person’s body look different. Sometimes this difference bothers a person, and sometimes it doesn’t. The person can choose to have a plastic surgeon make their body look more the way it used to.

PORT - a place where doctors can put liquid medicine into someone’s body from a large vein. Sometimes when a person has cancer, a doctor will put a port into her body. This is an easy and safe way to give a person medicine. The port stays in the person’s body as long as it’s needed. Then the doctor will take it out. Ports do not hurt. (illustration)

PROGNOSIS - a doctor’s best idea of what will happen to someone who has cancer. When someone has cancer, doctors do many tests and look into a person’s body to get more information. This information tells the doctor things, like what kind of cancer the person has, where the cancer can be found in the body, and how to make the cancer go away. The information can also help the doctor make an opinion on whether or not someone is likely to get better.

RADIATION THERAPY - using x-rays to make a tumor shrink or go away.

RECONSTRUCTION - creating a new breast shape when a natural breast has been removed. After a mastectomy, some women choose to have doctors create a new breast shape where their breast used to be. Some of the ways that doctors create a new breast shape are implants and tissue flap reconstruction. (illustration)

RECURRENCE - when cancer comes back. Recurrences can be local (where the cancer was first found), regional (in the general area where the cancer was first found), or distant (in another part of the body).

RED BLOOD CELLS - a kind of cell found in everyone’s blood. Red blood cells are the most common type of cell in blood. This kind of cell carries oxygen from the lungs to all the other cells in the body. (illustration)

REGIONAL RECURRENCE - when cancer returns to an area near the original cancer.

REMISSION - when cancer goes away.

REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM - the parts of the body that create a baby. (illustration)

SALINE - a liquid made of water and salt. When put in a special sac, surgeons can use saline to change the size and shape of a woman’s breasts. Getting rid of breast cancer can change the way a woman’s breasts look. Some women might like their bodies just the way they are, and some women might want their bodies to look more the way they used to before they had cancer. Doctors can use saline to make a breast look and feel more normal.

SCAN - a special kind of picture, taken by a large machine, that lets doctors see inside the body.

SCREENING - checking for cancer when a woman has no symptoms. Screening helps doctors find cancer early, before it has become large or spread to other parts of the body.

SILICONE - a gel that doctors use to change a woman’s breast. Getting rid of breast cancer can change the way a woman’s breasts look. Some women might like their bodies just the way they are, and some women might want their bodies to look more the way they used to before they had cancer. Doctors can use silicone to make a breast look and feel more normal. (illustration)

STEM CELLS - cells found in the blood and bone marrow that have not fully formed into blood cells. All blood cells come from stem cells.

SURGEON - a doctor who does surgery.

SURGERY - when a doctor makes an opening or cut on a person’s body so he can fix the person from the inside. Doctors sometimes do surgery on people with cancer to help them get better. They make a small cut on the person’s body so they can take the cancer out. After the cancer comes out, they close the cut with special clips or they sew the cut closed. Then they cover it with a bandage. The cut heals just like a cut on your finger. During surgery, doctors give patients special medicine so patients do not feel pain. (Also “operation”)

TISSUE FLAP RECONSTRUCTION - when doctors create the shape of a breast using material from a woman’s own body. During surgery, doctors move an area of tissue (skin, fat, and muscle) from one part of a woman’s body (usually her back or belly) to her chest. The doctor forms the tissue into the shape of a breast.

TRANSFUSION - giving blood, or some of the liquid or cells that make up blood, to someone who needs it. When you cut your finger, you lose a tiny bit of blood. When someone has surgery, they also lose some blood, too. If someone loses too much blood during surgery, a transfusion gets them back to normal. (illustration)

TUMOR - a lump. Sometimes tumors come from cancer, and sometimes they don’t. When cells grow out of control, they can form a lump.

ULTRASOUND - a special kind of picture that lets doctors see inside the body. Ultrasound pictures are taken by a machine that uses sound waves. They can help doctors find cancer.

UTERUS - the place inside a mother’s belly where babies grow. The uterus is the shape and size of a pear. It expands slowly like a balloon as a baby grows. (illustration)

VEIN - a special kind of tube in your body that carries blood toward the heart. (illustration)

WHITE BLOOD CELLS - the cells in our blood that help keep us from getting sick. Everyone has several types of white blood cells. When people get sick, their bodies make more white cells to help fight what’s making them sick. Sometimes cancer treatment can make the number of white cells go down. When you have fewer white cells, it’s easier to get sick. (illustration)

X-RAY - a kind of picture that lets doctors see inside the body. X-rays are black and white pictures. They are especially good for looking at bones, bellies, and lungs.

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