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abdominal CT scan A series of x-ray pictures taken of the abdomen by a machine that encircles the body like a giant tube. Computers are then used to generate cross-sectional images of the inside of the body.
abscess A pus-filled cavity.
adenoma A benign (non-cancerous) tumor made up of cells that form glands (collections of cells surrounding an empty space.)
adjuvant chemotherapy Chemotherapy given to patients after their cancers have been surgically removed. It is a secondary treatment given to supplement surgical treatment. (see Neoadjuvant chemotherapy)
anaplastic cancer Cancer cells that divide rapidly and revert to an undifferentiated form with no orientation to one another
anemia A condition characterized by a deficiency in red blood cells. This can lead to fatigue, among other symptoms.
angiography A radiographic technique used to visualize blood vessels. A contrast medium (a dye) is usually injected into the vessels to make them appear white on the x-rays.
anorexia A condition marked by a diminished appetite and aversion to food. Often results in physical signs of wasting.
antibody Any of a large number of proteins that are produced normally by specialized B cells after stimulation by an antigen and act specifically against the antigen in an immune response
antigen Usually a protein or carbohydrate substance capable of stimulating an immune response
ascites The collection of excess amounts of fluid in the abdominal cavity (belly). It often is a sign that the cancer has spread to either the liver or the portal vein that goes to the liver. If normal liver function is affected, a complex set of biochemical checks and balances is disrupted and abnormal amounts of fluid are retained.
assay Analysis to determine the presence, absence, or quantity of one or more components
benign tumor A tumor which is non-cancerous. These generally grow slowly and do not invade adjacent organs or spread (metastasize) beyond the ovaries.
biliary tree Branched bile ducts much like a tree
biomarker A distinctive usually biochemical indicator of a biological or geochemical process or event
biopsy The removal and microscopic examination of a tissue sample.
borderline tumor Borderline (low malignant potential (LMP)) tumors are a borderline form of cancer that may eventually spread and invade other tissues. This is a gray zone. A pathologist can distinguish those LMP tumors that are more likely to eventually spread and progress (and therefore require more aggressive treatment) from LMP tumors that do not tend to progress.
cachexia A dramatic weight loss and general wasting that occurs during chronic disease.
cancer A malignant tumor. It has the potential of invading into the adjacent tissues, spreading to other organs and may eventually lead to the patient's death.
carboplatin Generic name for chemotherapy drug Paraplatin®
carcinogen A cancer-causing agent.
carcinoma A malignant (cancerous) new growth. These tumors infiltrate into surrounding tissues and, if untreated, will spread to other organs, and may eventually lead to the patient's death.
catheter A small, flexible tube inserted into the body to inject or suck out fluids.
chemotherapy The treatment of a cancer by chemicals. For ovarian cancer these include: paclitaxel (Taxol®), cisplatin (Platinol®), carboplatin (Paraplatin®), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan®) and others.
cirrhosis Disfiguration of normal liver structure by increase in fibrous tissue and the formation of small irregular masses that is caused by any of various chronic conditions affecting the liver (long term alcohol abuse or hepatitis)
cisplatin Generic name for chemotherapy drug Platinol®
cohort a group of individuals who share a common characteristic
e.g. a group of individuals entered in a prospective study
colonoscopy Visual examination of the inside of the colon (large intestine) by means of a colonoscope (elongated flexible fiberoptic endoscope).
computed tomography (CT) scan A series of x-ray pictures taken by a machine that encircles the body like a giant tube. Computers are then used to generate cross-sectional images of the inside of the body.
contrast agent (or medium) A dye, taken by mouth or injected, that is sometimes used during x-ray examinationsto highlight areas that otherwise might not be seen.
cyclophosphamide Generic name for chemotherapy drug Cytoxan®
cyst A fluid filled sac. Some tumors of the biliary tree, including mucinous cystadenocarcinomas are cystic. These have a distinct appearance in CT scans. They are important to recognize because the treatment of cystic tumors can differ from that for solid tumors.
cystadenoma A fluid-filled sac
Cytoxan® Trade / brand name for chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide
diaphragm A dome shaped muscle that separates the lungs and heart from the abdomen. This muscle assists in breathing.
differentiate To develop specialized form, character, or function differing from that of surrounding cytoplasm, cells, or tissue from the original type
disseminated Widely dispersed in a tissue, organ, or the entire body
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) The part of every cell that carries all genetic information.
dysplasia A precancerous condition in which cells which are very similar to cancer cells grow in an organ but have not yet acquired the ability to invade into tissue or metastasize (spread to areas distant from where they started). This is a stage which can be cured.
-ectomy Surgical removal of a structure or part of a structure. For example, ovariectomy is the surgical removal of the ovaries
endometriosis The presence and growth of functioning endometrial tissue in places other than the uterus that often results in severe pain and infertility
endoscopy A procedure whereby a flexible fiber-optic tube is inserted into the esophagus, stomach or small intestine through the mouth (upper endoscopy) or into the large intestine through the anus (lower endoscopy) to look for abnormalities.
epithelial ovarian cancer Epithelial ovarian cancer is derived from the cells on the surface of the ovary. This is the most common form of ovarian cancer and occurs primarily in adults.
excrescence A projection or outgrowth especially when abnormal
exophytic growing outward; spreading externally or on the surface epithelium of where the growth originated
extreme drug resistance (EDR) assay The EDR assay is an in vitro chemoresistance assay performed on tumor samples grown in culture. The assay is claimed to predict drugs unlikely to produce response during chemotherapy.
germ cell ovarian cancer Germ cell ovarian cancer is derived from the egg producing cells within the body of the ovary. This occurs primarily in children and teens and is rare by comparison to epithelial ovarian cancers.
granulomatous inflammation A mass or nodule of chronically inflammed tissue with granulation that is usually associated with an infective process
hemorrhagic A copious discharge of blood from the blood vessels
hysterectomy Surgical removal of the uterus.
immunogenic Relating to or producing an immune response
in situ A term used to indicate that cancerous cells are present in the lining of an organ but have not spread to the "meat" of the tissue.
inguinal lymph nodes Lymph nodes located of, relating to, or situated in the region of the groin or of the lowest lateral regions of the abdomen
jaundice Yellowish color in the skin, tissues, and body fluids caused by the deposition of bile pigments
laparoscopy A technique that surgeons can use to visualize and even biopsy (take tissue samples of) organs inside of the abdomen without making large incisions. Very small incisions are made in the belly and small tubes (called trocars) are then inserted. Gas is pumped in through one of the tubes to create enough space to work in. The surgeon inserts a small camera through one of the tubes and examines the lining and contents of the abdominal cavity by looking at the projected image on the television screen. With specially designed laparascopic instruments, biopsies and fluid samples can be taken for examination. Some surgeons feel that this technique can help "stage" a patient less invasively than with open surgery.
liver The largest organ in the body, located in the right upper part of the abdomen. It performs many life-maintaining functions including the production of bile. It detoxifies the blood of drugs, alcohol and other harmful chemical. It processes nutrients absorbed by the intestine and stores essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Bilirubin is a chemical produced when old or damaged blood cells breakdown. The liver chemically process the bilirubin so that it can dissolve in water and be excreted through the bile. When this process is disrupted, jaundice can develop.
loco-regional cancer A primary cancer that has spread to regional lymph nodes and/or resectable (removable) tissues. Removable tissues include some lymph nodes that are routinely removed in some surgical treatments for cancer.
low malignant potential (LMP) tumor Low malignant potential (LMP) tumors are a borderline form of cancer that may eventually spread and invade other tissues. This is a gray zone. A pathologist can distinguish those LMP tumors that are more likely to eventually spread and progress (and therefore require more aggressive treatment) from LMP tumors that do not tend to progress.
lymph nodes Normal, round, raisin to grape-sized collections of lymphocytes (white blood cells) found throughout the body. Lymph nodes are connected to each other by lymphatic vessels. They normally help fight infection, but also are one of the first sites to which cancers spread. In general, the spread of cancer to lymph nodes portends a worse prognosis for the patient. There are exceptions to this.
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) A painless method for taking pictures of internal organs. A tube-like machine with a powerful magnet generates images of the inside of the body.
malignant tumor A cancer that has the potential of invading nearby tissues, spreading to other organs (metastasizing) and possibly leading to the patient's death.
mammogram A radiogragh of the breast. During the procedure the patient's breasts are placed alternately on a metal plate, and radiographs are taken from the side and above.
mesentery Any of several folds of the peritoneum that connect the intestines to the dorsal abdominal wall.
mesothelioma A tumor derived from the cells lining the abdominal cavity (peritoneum).
metaplasia The replacement of the lining of an organ with the type of lining normally found in another site. For example, in lung bronchi, the normal cell type found is "ciliated columnar epithelium". In smokers, this lining is replaced by a cell type normally found in the mouth (squamous epithelium), and is called "squamous metaplasia". In the esophagus, the normal lining is squamous epithelium, but in patients with reflux (regurgitation of stomach contents into the esophagus), the esophagus lining may be replaced with a cell type normally found in the intestines (intestinal metaplasia).
metastatic cancer A cancer that has spread from one organ to another. In general, cancers that have metastasized are generally not treated surgically, but instead are treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
mixed mullerian tumor Mixed mullerian suggests the presence of multiple different histologies/morphologies (e.g. serous and endometriod or mucinous). These are all types of epithelial tumors.
mutation An alteration in the DNA of a cell.
necrosis Usually localized death of living tissue
neoadjuvant A new method that assists in the prevention or cure of disease
neoadjuvant chemo and radiation therapy Chemotherapy and radiation therapy given to patients before surgery. Some centers feel that the use of neoadjuvant therapy improves local and regional control of disease and that it may make more patients surgical candidates.
neoplasm An abnormal new growth of tissue that grows more rapidly than normal cells and will continue to grow if not treated. These growths will compete with normal cells for nutrients. This is a general term that can refer to benign or malignant growths. It is almost a synonym for the word tumor, which means a mass or growth.
omentum A fold of peritoneum extending from the stomach to adjacent abdominal organs
oncologist A medical doctor who specializes in the treatment of tumors.
oophorectomy Surgical removal of the ovary; bilateral oophorectomy = removal of both ovaries.
-ostomy A surgically created opening in an organ that can also be referred to as an anastomosis.
paclitaxel Generic name for chemotherapy drug Taxol®
palliative Any treatment that reduces the severity of a disease or its symptoms.
Papanicolaou test (smear) Also called a Pap smear — a procedure used commonly to detect cancer of the uterus and cervix
papillary Branch-like arrangement of the tumor cells. The more complex and irregular the branching pattern, the more dangerous the tumor.
Paraplatin® Trade / brand name for chemotherapy drug carboplatin
pathologist A medical doctor specially trained to study disease processes.
peritoneum The serous membrane lining the walls of the abdominal and pelvic cavities and contained organs
Platinol® Trade / brand name for chemotherapy drug cisplatin
pleomorphic Able to assume different forms
primary cancer A cancer found in the organ it started in. A primary cancer of the esophagus is one that started in the esophagus as opposed to a cancer that started somewhere else and only later spread to the esophagus.
prognosis A forecast for the probable outcome of a disease based on the experience of large numbers of other patients with similar stage disease. Importantly, making a prognosis is not an exact science. Some patients with poor prognosis beat the odds and live longer than anyone would have predicted. Steve Dunn's Cancer Guide has an excellent article on statistics and prognoses and stories of other cancer patients.
prophylactic surgery preventitive surgical removal of one or both ovaries, fallopian tubes, and/or uterus to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer
radiation therapy The use of high-energy waves similar to x-rays to treat a cancer. Radiation therapy is usually used to treat a local area of disease and often is given in combination with chemotherapy.
rectovaginal pelvic exam A procedure that allows the physician to assess the size of the ovaries, contour and mobility of the uterus, and feel for masses and growths
resectable Able to be removed surgically.
salpingectomy Surgical removal of the fallopian tubes; bilateral salpingectomy and oophorectomy = removal of both fallopian tubes and ovaries.
sarcoma A malignant tumor that mimics connective tissues (bone, cartilage, muscle) under the microscope.
sebaceous Of, relating to, or being fatty material
sepsis An infection of the blood.
small intestine A long (20 foot) tube that stretches from the stomach to the large intestine. It helps absorb nutrients from food as the food is transported to the large intestine. There are three sections: the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum. Due to its proximity to the pancreas, the duodenum is the section most often affected by pancreatic and distal common bile duct cancers.
spectrometry an instrument used for measuring wavelengths of light
spleen A maroon, rounded organ in the upper left part of the abdomen, near the tail of the pancreas. This organ is part of your immune system and filters the lymph and blood in your body.
squamous cell A flat, scale-like cell.
staging A classification system used to describe the extent of disease. For ovarian cancer:

Stage I

    Growth of tumor limited to the ovaries
Stage II
    Growth of tumor in one or both ovaries
Stage III
    Tumor involving one or both ovaries with implants outside the pelvis and/or positive retroperitoneal or inguinal lymph nodes. Superficial liver metastasis equals stage III.
Stage IV
    Growth involving one or both ovaries with distant metastases. If pleural effusion is present there must be positive cytology to allot a case to stage IV. Tumor spread inside the liver, equals stage IV.
    Recurrence means that the tumor has returned after initial therapy. Refractory means that the tumor fails to respond to initial treatment.
In general, the lower the stage, the better the prognosis.
stent A slender hollow tube inserted into the body to relieve a blockage. For example, bile duct cancers often narrow the bile duct. This can block the flow of bile and cause the patient to become jaundiced. In these cases the flow of bile can be reestablished by placing a stent into the bile duct, through the area of blockage.
Taxol® Trade / brand name for chemotherapy drug paclitaxel
thrombophlebitis An inflammation of the veins accompanied by thrombus formation. It is sometimes referred to as Trousseau's sign.
thrombus A clot within the cardiovascular system. It may occlude (block) the vessel or may be attached to the wall of the vessel without blocking the blood flow.
transvaginal ultrasound (TVS) Sonogram — a painless procedure in which high frequency sound waves are used to generate pictures of the inside of the body — performed through the vagina. A lubricated probe is placed inside the vagina to visualize the pelvic organs and structures.
tumor This term simply refers to a mass or neoplasm. For example, a collection of pus is a tumor. This is a general term that can refer to benign or malignant growths.
ultrasound A painless procedure in which high frequency sound waves are used to generate pictures of the inside of the body.
unresectable Unable to be surgically removed.
vaccine therapy This is a new type of treatment, largely still experimental. It is a medication made of killed or weakened cells, organisms or manufactured materials, which is used to boost the body's immune system. Ideally, this will allow the body to fight and kill the cancer cells more effectively. Vaccines include whole killed cancer cells or specific proteins from the cancer.

  1. The Johns Hopkins Family Health Book. Michael J. Klag, Editor. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.
  2. Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary 27th Edition. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1985.
  3. Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online

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