Breast cancer glossary: Helping translate the complicated language of breast cancer
Breast cancer terminology can be difficult to understand. This glossary provides simple explanations for some of the commonly used terms and phrases associated with breast cancer to help you feel more confident when reading and talking about breast cancer in the future.
AAntibody-drug conjugates (ADCs)
Medicines for cancer that combine chemotherapy with a targeted drug that helps ensure focus on killing cancer cells over other cells. This can mean less unpleasant side effects associated with traditional chemotherapy. Learn more about ADCs here.Adjuvant treatment
Treatment given to patients with early breast cancer after surgery with the aim of completely clearing any remaining cancer cells from the body and reducing the chances of the cancer returning.Advanced breast cancer (aBC)
A term used to describe secondary/metastatic breast cancer i.e. when the cancer spreads to other parts of the body such as the bone, liver, lung and brain. The goal of treatment in aBC is to help patients live longer, while preserving quality of life as much as possible. Learn more about aBC here.Adverse events (AEs)
Side effects; unwanted changes in health that occur while the patient is receiving a treatment.
Affecting both sides of the body; for example, a bilateral mastectomy is removal of both breasts.Biopsy
A procedure that involves taking a small sample of body tissue so it can be examined more closely under a microscope. A biopsy is the only diagnostic procedure that can definitely determine if the suspicious area is cancerous and what type of breast cancer it is. Learn more about the types of breast cancer here.Breast conserving surgery (lumpectomy)
Surgery is a part of a comprehensive treatment approach in breast cancer. Breast conserving surgery is when only the part of the breast containing the cancer is removed – an option for some women with early breast cancer.
DDisease free survival (DFS)
An endpoint used in clinical trials to show if a treatment works. DFS is the length of time a patient lives without signs or symptoms of that cancer after finishing initial treatment.
EEarly breast cancer (eBC)
Breast cancer that has not spread beyond the fatty tissue of the breast. Treating breast cancer early may offer the best chance of cure. Learn more about early breast cancer here.Endpoint
In clinical trials, an event or outcome that can be measured to determine whether the treatment being studied is working against the cancer.
FFirst-line therapy (1L)
An initial treatment that is given after diagnosis of the disease. If cancer is diagnosed at an advanced stage, some patients may require further treatments, known as second-line (2L) and third-line (3L) if their 1L treatment stops working.
HHER2-positive breast cancer
Breast cancer characterised by the presence of too many HER2 receptors on the cancer cell surface. This type of breast cancer can be particularly aggressive and associated with poorer outcomes. Learn more about HER2-positive breast cancer here.Hormone-receptor (HR)-positive breast cancer
Breast cancers are considered HR-positive when tumour cells produce abnormal amounts of receptors for the hormones, oestrogen and/or progesterone.
IInvasive disease-free survival (iDFS)
An endpoint used in clinical trials to show if a treatment works. iDFS is the time a patient lives without return of invasive disease after adjuvant treatment. It is often a more precise estimate of a treatment’s effect on the disease compared to DFS.Intravenous (IV)
A way of giving a medicine through a needle or tube inserted directly into a vein.
LLocally advanced breast cancer
Locally advanced breast cancer means the cancer has spread locally in the area of the breast to the skin, chest wall or lymph nodes, but not to distant organs, such as the liver, lungs or brain.Lymph nodes
Lymph nodes are oval-shaped organs located throughout the body which are a part of our immune system. They act as filters and monitors for infection. One of the symptoms of breast cancer is swelling/a lump in the lymph nodes under the arms.
Surgery to remove the entire breast.Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs)
Medicines that are produced in living cells in the laboratory. When used to treat cancer, they are designed to target specific cancer cells (therefore sparing healthy cells) by recognising specific proteins on their surface. MAbs are very complex medicines, developed and manufactured via very complex processes.
Treatment given to some patients with early breast cancer before surgery with the aim of shrinking the tumour and, thus, enabling an easier surgical procedure and a potentially better surgical outcome. Neoadjuvant treatment and surgery are followed by adjuvant therapy to wipe out the remaining cancer cells and prevent the disease from returning.
OOverall response rate (ORR)
An endpoint used in clinical trials to show if a treatment works. ORR refers to the portion of patients whose tumours shrink by a predefined amount within a set period of time.Overall survival (OS)
An endpoint used in clinical trials to show if a treatment works. OS represents the length of time a person with cancer survives after starting treatment.
Palliative care aims to improve the quality of life of patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease, such as cancer. The goal of palliative care is to relieve the symptoms and side effects associated with the disease and its treatment.Pathological complete response (pCR)
An endpoint used in early breast cancer clinical trials to show if a treatment works. pCR is achieved when there is no tumour tissue detectable at the time of surgery in the affected breast or in the affected breast and local lymph nodes. pCR can be assessed more quickly than traditional endpoints such as disease-free survival (DFS).Progression-free survival (PFS)
An endpoint used in clinical trials to show if a treatment works. PFS represents the time patients live without their disease worsening or returning.
QQuality of life (QoL)
QoL is a broad measure of a person’s well-being, which encompasses physical, functional, social and emotional aspects.
Various proteins on the surface of cells that trigger certain reactions in the cell and play an important role in tumour growth. Treatments are available that target these receptors, inhibiting their action and stopping the growth of the cancer.
SSecond-line therapy (2L)
Treatment that is given when initial treatment (first-line therapy) doesn’t work, or stops working. The aim of 2L treatment is to help patients live longer, while preserving quality of life as much as possible.Subcutaneous treatment
Subcutaneous treatment is injected into the tissue layer between the skin and the muscle.
TTriple negative breast cancer (TNBC)
TNBC is a type of breast cancer that lacks oestrogen and progesterone receptors, and does not over-produce the HER2 protein. The mechanisms that drive this type of cancer are therefore largely unknown which makes it particularly difficult to treat.