Glossary

Understanding words and terms to do with cancer

Here at Younity, we’ve tried to make everything as easy as possible to understand. But we know that cancer can be overwhelming and complicated, and you might hear a lot of words or terms that are new to you. On this page, we’ve listed some of these. But remember – if you still have questions, your doctor can help explain them to you.    

This stands for ‘anaplastic lymphoma kinase’. ALK is a gene in your DNA that makes a protein (also called ALK). The ALK protein can help your cells understand when it is time to grow, multiply, move, or even die.

ALK+ means that you have a cancer that has a change in the ALK gene in your DNA. When this change happens, it can cause cells to start growing too quickly, or stop dying when they should. Eventually, they might build up and form a tumour and cancer.

A type of test where some of the cancer is removed so that it can be examined and analysed to learn more about it.

A type of scan that looks specifically at your bones to try and detect any areas where they aren’t growing normally, for example, to see if cancer has spread to the bones.

Cancer is a type of disease. It starts when something changes in the DNA that is inside cells. When this happens, cells can start to grow too fast and eventually build up and form tumours.

Cells are like tiny building blocks that make up our bodies. They grow, multiply, and die all the time, and the speed at which they do is carefully balanced. When cancer starts, the cells lose their balance and can start to build up and form tumours.

The CNS is another name for your brain and spinal cord.

A type of cancer medicine that works by killing cells that are growing too quickly (like cancers often do).

A type of scan where a machine takes lots of detailed X-ray images of the inside of someone’s body.

DNA is short for deoxyribonucleic acid. It’s a bit like a series of instructions that tell the cells in our bodies what to do, where to go, and what kind of important proteins they need to make to keep the body working properly.

Genes are specific portions of DNA that contain instructions to make particular proteins. 

Cancer that has spread from where it first started growing to another part of the body. When this happens, you might hear a doctor say, “Cancer has metastasised”.

A type of scan that uses magnetism and radio waves to take detailed pictures of the inside of the body.

There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common – about 85% of lung cancers are non-small cell lung cancers.

A doctor who is specially trained to understand and treat cancer.

A type of care that helps manage symptoms for people with serious illnesses, to improve the quality of their life. Palliative care is different from end-of-life care.

A type of scan that uses a small amount of radioactivity to take detailed pictures of the inside of the body.

A type of molecule that is important for life. Our cells make proteins using the information in our DNA. These proteins carry out lots of different jobs in the body, like sending messages between cells, transporting other molecules, and helping cells to grow and multiply.

A type of cancer treatment where radiation is used to kill cancer cells. Radiotherapy is sometimes given using a big machine that focuses an invisible beam of radiation at a cancer. Sometimes it can be given by putting an implant inside or near the cancer during surgery.

This stands for ‘rearranged during transfection’. RET is a gene in your DNA that makes a protein (also called RET). The RET protein can help your cells understand when it is time to grow, multiply, move, or even die.

RET+ means that you have a cancer that has a change in the RET gene in your DNA. When this change happens, it can cause cells to start growing too quickly, or stop dying when they should. Eventually, they might build up and form a tumour and cancer.

ROS1 is a gene in your DNA that makes a protein (also called ROS1). We don’t know exactly what ROS1 does in a healthy person’s body, but when it is changed, it can cause cancer.

ROS1+ means that you have a cancer that has a change in the ROS1 gene in your DNA. When this change happens, it can cause cells to start growing too quickly, or stop dying when they should. Eventually, they might build up and form a tumour and cancer.

Term used for when a medicine or treatment has an unwanted effect on the body.

A large group of cells that aren’t growing normally. Tumours can be benign (meaning they aren’t a big risk to the body and will usually not come back if they are removed) or malignant (which means they can cause cancers that can be harmful to a person).

A type of scan where sound waves are used to see inside the body.