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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

An imaging study in which a magnet linked to a computer is used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body.

Mammogram or Mammography

X-ray of the breast.

Medical oncologist

A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating all forms of cancer using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and biological therapy. A medical oncologist often serves as the patient's main caretaker and coordinates treatment provided by other specialists.


Spread of cancer from one part of the body to another; cells that have metastasized are like those in the original (primary) tumor.


Tiny deposits of calcium that can be detected by mammography. A cluster of small specks of calcium may indicate that cancer is present.

Modified radical mastectomy

Breast surgery that removes the entire breast including the nipple and several lymph nodes under the arm. No muscle is removed.

Monoclonal antibodies

Laboratory-produced substances that can locate and bind to cancer cells wherever they are in the body. Many monoclonal antibodies are used in cancer detection or therapy; each one recognizes a different protein on certain cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies can be used alone, or they can be used to deliver drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to the tumor.

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Needle localization biopsy

Use of mammography or ultrasound to guide a needle to a suspicious area that cannot be felt but shows up on a mammogram and/or ultrasound.


A test result that is normal; failing to show a specific disease or condition for which the test is being done.

Neoadjuvant therapy

Treatment given before surgery to shrink a tumor so that an operation is possible. Neoadjuvant therapy can be chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormone therapy.

Nipple discharge

Fluid coming from the nipple.

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Oncologist, medical oncologist

A doctor who uses chemotherapy or hormonal therapy to treat cancer.

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Perceptible by touch; able to be felt.

Hormonal therapy

The use of hormones to treat cancer patients by removing, blocking, or adding to the effects of a hormone on an organ or part of the body. Also called endocrine therapy.

Palliative care

Treatment that continues after a cure is no longer possible. Procedures are administered to relieve pain and manage symptoms.


A benign breast tumor; an abnormal but not cancerous growth.


A doctor who examines tissues and cells under a microscope to determine if they are normal or abnormal.

Pathology report

The report of a diagnosis made by a pathologist based on microscopic evidence.


The presence of a specific disease or condition for which the test is being done. When breast cancer tests come back "positive," it means there is cancer.

Positron emission tomography scan, PET scan

A computerized image of the metabolic activity of body tissues used to determine the presence of disease.


A female hormone; one of the hormones that can help some breast cancers grow.

Progesterone receptor test

Lab test to determine if a breast cancer will respond to tamoxifen or other hormonal therapies.


Possibility of recovery; prediction of the course or outcome of the disease.


An external breast form that may be worn in a bra after a mastectomy. Prosthesis is also the technical name of a breast form placed under the skin in breast reconstruction.

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This glossary is largely an excerpt from An Informational Guide to Breast Cancer, August 2005, HCA, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee. Printed here with permission. Reviewed by Joanne Hindle, RN, MS, NP-C, OCN. We thank HCA and these individual contributors: Connie Carson, Ph.D., Healthcare Consultant, Littleton, Colorado; Rebecca Knight, MD, FACS, General Surgeon, Foothills Surgical Associates, Wheat Ridge, Colorado; Francene Mason, M.D., Medical Oncologist, Boulder, Colorado; Susan Lasker-Hertz, RN, MSN, CHPN, Director of Clinical Services, Denver Hospice, Denver, Colorado; Barbara Schwartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.S., Breast Cancer Surgeon, HealthONE, Denver, Colorado; and Dev Paul, D.O., Ph.D., Medical Oncologist, Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, Denver, Colorado.