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Home > Patient Information > Glossary > Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Commonly Used Terms Related to Thyroid Cancer

 

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A B C D E F G H I L M N O P R S T U X

Acute
Symptoms or signs that arise suddenly and worsen quickly rather then gradually (chronic).

Adenocarcinoma
Cancer that arises from a gland.

Adenoma
A non cancerous (benign) tumour

Adjuvant Therapy
An additional treatment used in conjunction with the primary treatment, which is usually surgery.  Adjuvant treatment aims to lower the risk of recurrence. 

Anaplastic
A term used to describe cancer cells that have little or no resemblance to normal cells. This type of cancer usually grows rapidly and responds poorly to treatments.

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer
A rare, aggressive type of thyroid cancer, in which the malignant cells look very different from normal thyroid cells.

Aspirate (N)
Fluid withdrawn from a lump or a cyst, which is sent for analysis, to help obtain a diagnosis.

Aspirate (V)
To withdraw fluid from a lump or a cyst, which is then sent for analysis, to help obtain a diagnosis.

Benign
Not cancerous; does not invade nearby tissue, or spread to other parts of the body.

Benign Tumour
A noncancerous growth that does not invade nearby tissue, or spread to other parts of the body.

Cancer or Carcinoma
Terms for diseases caused by abnormal cells, which divide without control.

Cancer cells can invade nearby tissues and spread through the blood and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.

Carcinoma in Situ
A form of precancer that does not spread.

CAT Scan
Abbreviation for Computerised Axial Tomography, also called Computed Tomography or Computerised Tomography (CT Scan).  A scan involves a series of x-ray pictures being taken, which are used by a computer, to build up a detailed picture of the part of the body being examined.

Chemotherapy
Treatment for cancer with powerful (cytotoxic) drugs by mouth or injection, under the care of a consultant oncologist.  Side effects can include sickness, tiredness, hair loss and mouth ulcers.

Cold Nodule
When a scanner is used to examine the thyroid's uptake of radioactive material, some nodules collect less radioactive material than the surrounding thyroid tissue.  These are considered "cold."  A nodule that is cold does not make thyroid hormone.  About 1 in 20 cold nodules are cancerous.

Cyst
A sac or capsule filled with fluid.

DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms.

Diffuse
Widely spread; not localised or confined.

Endocrinologist
A doctor who specialises in diagnosing and treating hormone disorders.

ENT
A doctor who specialises in treating diseases of the ear, nose, and throat. Also called an otorhinolaryngologist.

Familial Cancer
Cancer that occurs in certain families more often than average.  These cancers often occur at an early age, and may indicate the presence of a gene mutation that increases the risk of cancer.  They may also be a sign of shared environmental or lifestyle factors.

Fine-Needle Aspiration (FNA)
The removal of tissue or fluid, with a needle, for examination under a microscope.  Also called needle biopsy.

Follicular Thyroid Cancer
Cancer that develops from cells in the follicular areas of the thyroid.  One of the slow-growing, highly treatable types of thyroid cancer.

Follow-up
This involves monitoring a person's health for a period of time after treatment. It includes tracking the health of people who participate in clinical studies or clinical trials, both during the time of the study and after the study ends.

Gene
Genes comprise particles of DNA, packaged in chromosomes.  They determine when and where the body makes each of the many thousands of proteins required for life and instruct cells in their growth and function.  Humans have 20-30,000 genes.  Researchers’ hunt for disease associated genes has resulted in a number being identified, including some that are pre-determiners for cancer.  Better understanding of the function of genes and their contribution to disease is leading to increasingly improved treatments.

Genetic
Traits that are inherited; genetic information is passed from parents to offspring, through genes carried in sperm and ova (egg cells).

Genetic Markers
Alterations in DNA that may indicate an increased risk of developing a specific disease or disorder.

Genetic Susceptibility
An inherited increase in the risk of developing a disease.

Genetic Testing
Analysing DNA, to look for a genetic alteration that may indicate an increased risk of developing a specific disease or disorder.

Gland
An organ that makes one or more substances, such as hormones, digestive juices, sweat, tears, saliva, or milk.  Endocrine glands release the substances directly into the bloodstream.  Exocrine glands release the substances into a duct or opening to the inside or outside of the body.

Goitre
An enlarged thyroid.  This may be caused by too little iodine in the diet, or by other conditions.  Most goitres are not cancerous.

Hormones
Chemical messengers that affect certain cells in a part of the body.

Hürthle Cell Neoplasm (HER-tel cell)
An uncommon type of thyroid tumour that can be benign or malignant.

Hyperplasia
An abnormal increase in the number of cells in an organ or tissue.

Hyperthyroidism
Too much thyroid hormone.  Symptoms include weight loss, diarrhea, and nervousness. Also called overactive thyroid.

Hypothyroidism
Too little thyroid hormone.  Symptoms include weight gain, constipation, dry skin and sensitivity to the cold.  Also called underactive thyroid.

In Situ Cancer/Carcinoma
Precancerous cells that do not spread.

Invasive Cancer
Cancer that has spread beyond the layer of tissue in which it developed and is growing into surrounding, healthy tissues. Also called infiltrating cancer.

Iodine
An element that the body needs, to make thyroid hormone.  It is found in shellfish and iodized salt.

Irradiation
The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, and other sources, to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours.

Isthmus
A narrow section that connects two larger structures, such as the right and left lobe of the thyroid.

Larynx
Also known as the voice box, this is the area of the throat containing the vocal cords and used in breathing, swallowing, and talking. 

Lobe
A portion of an organ, such as the liver, lung, breast, thyroid gland, or brain. The thyroid gland has two lobes joined by the isthmus.

Lobectomy
The removal of a lobe.

Lymphadenectomy
A surgical procedure, in which lymph nodes are removed and examined, to see whether they contain cancerous cells. 

Lymph Node
Also called a lymph gland, this is a rounded mass of lymphatic tissue. surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue.  Lymph nodes filter lymph (lymphatic fluid), and store lymphocytes (white blood cells).  They are located along lymphatic vessels.

Lymph Node Dissection
A surgical procedure, in which lymph nodes are removed and examined, to see whether they contain cancerous cells. 

Malignancy
A cancerous tumour that can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Malignant
Cancerous; a growth with a tendency to invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Metastasis
The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another.  A tumour formed from cells that have spread is called a secondary tumour, a metastatic tumour, or a metastasis.  The secondary tumour contains cells similar to those in the original (primary) tumour. The plural form of metastasis is metastases.

Metastatic Cancer
Cancer that has spread from the place in which it started to other parts of the body.

MRI Scan
Magnetic Resonance Imaging uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves linked to a computer, to scan areas of the body and produce detailed pictures.

Needle Biopsy
The removal of tissue or fluid, with a needle, for examination under a microscope.  Also called fine-needle aspiration.

Neoplasia
Abnormal and uncontrolled cell growth.

Neoplasm
A new growth of benign or malignant tissue.

Nodule
A growth, or lump, that may be cancerous or noncancerous.

Oncology
The study of cancer.

Overactive Thyroid
An overactive thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone. Symptoms include weight loss, chest pain, cramp, diarrhea, and nervousness.  Also called hyperthyroidsm.

Palpable Disease
A term used to describe cancer that can be felt by touch, usually present in lymph nodes, skin, or other organs of the body such as the liver or colon.

Palpation
Examination by pressing, with the fingers, on the surface of the body, to feel the organs or tissues underneath.

Papillary Thyroid Cancer
Cancer that develops from cells in the thyroid and forms small finger-like projections, in the gland.  The most common type of thyroid cancer, it grows slowly, is more common in women than in men, and often develops before age 40.

Parathyroid glands
Four pea-sized glands found on the thyroid.  The parathyroid hormone, produced by these glands, increases the calcium level in the blood.

Parathyroid Hormone
A substance made by the parathyroid gland that helps the body store and use calcium.  Also called parathormone, parathyrin, or PTH.

Pathologist
A doctor who identifies diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope.

PET scan
Positron Emission Tomography scan.  A computerised image of the metabolic activity of body tissues, used to determine the presence of disease.

Pituitary Gland
The main endocrine gland, the pituitary produces hormones that control other glands and many functions of the body, especially growth.

Radiation
Energy released in the form of particles or electromagnetic waves.  Common sources of radiation include radon gas, cosmic rays from outer space, and medical x-rays.

Radiation Therapy
Also called radiotherapy, irradiation, and x-ray therapy; these terms describe the use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, and other sources, to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours. Please see Radiotherapy below .

Radioactive Iodine
A radioactive form of iodine, often used for imaging tests, or as a treatment for cancer.  For imaging tests, the patient takes a small amount of radioactive iodine by mouth, this collects in the thyroid.  A probe is then used to scan the thyroid. For treatment, the patient takes a larger dose of radioactive iodine, which kills thyroid cells.

Radioisotope
An unstable element, which releases radiation as it breaks down.  Radioisotopes can be used in imaging tests or as a treatment for cancer.

Radio labeled
Any compound that has been joined with a radioactive substance.

Radiologist
A doctor who specialises in creating and interpreting pictures of areas inside the body.  The pictures are produced with x-rays, sound waves, or other types of energy.

Radiology
The use of radiation, such as x-rays, or other imaging technologies, such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging, to diagnose or treat disease.

Radionuclide Scanning / Radioactive Iodine Scanning (RAI)
A test that produces pictures (scans) of internal parts of the body.  The patient is given an injection, or swallows a small amount of radioactive material; a machine called a scanner then measures the level of radioactivity in certain organs.

Radiotherapy
The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, and other sources, to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours.  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, Implant Radiation, or Brachytherapy).  Systemic Radiation Therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radio-labeled monoclonal antibody, that circulates throughout the body.  Also called Radiation Therapy.

Recurrent Cancer
Cancer that has returned after it had disappeared.  It may return at the same site as the original (primary) tumour or in another location.

Remission
A reduction, or disappearance, of signs and symptoms of cancer.  In partial remission, some, but not all, signs and symptoms of cancer disappear.  In complete remission, all signs and symptoms of cancer disappear, although cancer still may be present in the body.

Resection
Surgical removal of tissue, or the whole or part of an organ.

Residual Disease
Cancer cells that remain, after attempts to remove the cancer have been made.

Resistance
Failure of a cancer to shrink despite medical treatment.

Risk Factor
Anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease.  Examples of risk factors for cancer include: a family history of cancer; use of tobacco products; certain foods and drinks; exposure to radiation or other cancer causing agents, such as asbestos; and certain genetic changes.

Scans
Scans are pictures of structures inside the body.  Scans commonly used in diagnosing, staging, and monitoring disease include: liver scans; bone scans; and computed tomography (CT) or computerised axial tomography (CAT) scans; magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); and Ultrasound scans.  In liver and bone scanning, radioactive substances injected into the bloodstream collect in these organs.  A scanner, which detects the radiation, is used to create pictures.  In CT scanning, an x-ray machine linked to a computer is used to produce detailed pictures of organs inside the body.  MRI scans use a large magnet connected to a computer to create pictures of areas inside the body.

Secondary Tumour
Also called secondary cancer, this is cancer that has spread, from the organ in which it first appeared, to another organ. 

Stage
The extent of a cancer within the body, especially whether the disease has spread from the original site to other parts of the body.  Staging is a method of using diagnostic techniques to assess the stage the disease has reached.

Thyroglobulin
The form that thyroid hormone takes when stored in the cells of the thyroid.  After the thyroid has been removed, thyroglobulin should not be present in a blood test.  Doctors measure the thyroglobulin level in blood to detect thyroid cancer cells that remain in the body after treatment.

Thyroid Follicular Cell
A type of cell in the thyroid.  Thyroid follicular cells make thyroid hormone.

Thyroid Gland
A gland located beneath the voice box (larynx) that produces thyroid hormone. The thyroid helps regulate growth and metabolism.

Thyroid Hormone
The thyroid gland makes T3 (tri-iodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine), which together comprise the thyroid hormone.  T3 and T4 have identical effects on cells.  Thyroid hormone affects heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight.  T3 and T4 are stored as thyroglobulin, which can be converted back into
T3 and T4.

Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
A hormone produced by the pituitary gland.  TSH stimulates the release of thyroid hormone from thyroglobulin.  It also stimulates the growth of thyroid follicular cells.  In those who have had thyroid cancer, TSH is suppressed in order to discourage the growth of thyroid cells.  In a healthy person, an abnormal TSH level may mean that the thyroid hormonal regulation system is out of control, usually as a result of a benign condition (hyperthyroidism or
hypothyroidism).

Thyroidectomy
Surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid.

Thyroxine is a hormone made by the thyroid gland.  It helps to keep the body's functions (the metabolism) working at the correct pace.  Patients diagnosed with hypothyroidism, or those who have their thyroid removed will be prescribed thyroxine tablets.

Tumour
An abnormal mass of tissue that results from excessive cell division.  Tumours perform no useful bodily function.  They may be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Tumour marker
Also called a biomarker, is a substance, sometimes found in an increased amount in the blood, other body fluids, or tissues, which may mean that a certain type of cancer cell is present in the body.  Examples of tumour markers include: CA 125 (ovarian cancer); CA 15-3 (breast cancer); CEA (ovarian, lung, breast, pancreatic, and gastrointestinal tract cancers); and PSA (prostate cancer).  The thyroid cancer tumour marker is known as Tg (thyrogobulin).  .

Ultrasound Scan
A test that bounces sound waves off tissues and internal organs and changes the echoes into sonograms (pictures).

Undifferentiated
A term used to describe cells or tissues that do not have specialised structures or functions.  Undifferentiated cancer cells often grow and spread quickly.

X-ray
A type of high-energy radiation.  In low doses, x-rays are used to diagnose diseases by making pictures of the inside of the body.  In high doses, x-rays are

used to treat cancer. 

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