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Energy carried by waves or by streams of particles. Various forms of radiation can be used in low doses to diagnose cancer and in high doses to treat breast cancer.

Radiation oncologist

A doctor who uses radiation therapy to treat cancer.

Radiation therapy

The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, neutrons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external beam radiation therapy) or from materials called radioisotopes. Radioisotopes produce radiation and are placed in or near the tumor or in the area near cancer cells. This type of radiation treatment is called internal radiation therapy, implant radiation, interstitial radiation, or brachytherapy. Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that circulates throughout the body. Also called radiotherapy.

Radical mastectomy

Breast surgery used when a tumor has spread extensively to the chest muscles and ribs. This was the standard procedure years ago; it is less common today.


A doctor who uses ultrasound, x-rays, mammograms, MRIs, CT scans, PET scans, and bone scans for the diagnosis and follow-up care of breast cancer and other medical conditions.


Reappearance of cancer at the same site (local recurrence), near the original site (regional recurrence), or in other areas of the body (distant recurrence).

Risk factors

Conditions that increase a person's chance of getting a disease. Risk factors do not cause cancer; rather, they are indicators linked with an increased likelihood for getting a disease.

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Checking for disease when there are no symptoms.

Sentinel lymph node

The first lymph node(s) to which cancer cells spread after leaving the area of the primary tumor. Presence of cancer cells in this node alerts the doctor that the tumor has spread to the lymphatic system.

Stage or staging

Classifying breast cancer according to its size and whether or not it has spread to other parts of the body. Breast cancer is classified as Stages I, II, III, IV, with higher stages being more advanced cancers.

Stereotactic needle biopsy

A technique that uses double-view mammography to pinpoint a specific target area when a lump cannot be felt.

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A hormone-blocking agent used to treat breast cancer.

Tissue flap reconstruction

A flap of tissue, usually muscle, surgically relocated from another area of the body to the chest and formed into a new breast mound.


An abnormal growth of tissue; tumors may be either benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

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A technique that uses high-frequency sound waves reflecting off internal body parts to create images for medical examination. Therapists can also use ultrasound to treat deep tissue disorders.

Ultrasound-guided biopsy

A biopsy done with guidance from ultrasound.

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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.