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Metastatic Breast Cancer Dictionary

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A guide to common terms you may hear after being diagnosed with metastatic disease. After being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, you will begin to have important conversations with your healthcare team. This dictionary will help you understand words you may often hear while talking to a healthcare professional.

Genetic Mutations Genetic mutations are changes in a gene’s DNA that cause genes to function abnormally. The BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene one) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene two) genes are examples of inherited genetic mutations. All cancers have genetic changes, whether it is an inherited mutation or not.

Metastatic Breast Cancer (Stage IV Breast Cancer) Metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread through the lymph vessels and blood vessels to other organs of the body, most often the bones, lungs, liver, or brain; or breast cancer that has spread locally to the skin and lymph nodes inside the neck near the collarbone.

Neutropenia Neutropenia means that the number of blood cells called neutrophils is too low. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that fight infection.

Palliative Therapy Palliative therapy is treatment to relieve symptoms caused by advanced cancer. Its purpose is to improve the quality of life and sometimes extend life, but it is not intended to cure the cancer. Palliative therapy can include systemic treatments, surgery, and radiation.

Progression Progression means that the cancer grows larger or spreads to other parts of the body.

Radiation Therapy Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body in the area near cancer cells (internal radiation, implant radiation, or brachytherapy).

Receptor A receptor is a protein inside or on the surface of a cell that binds to a specific substance that appears on the outside the cell. This binding causes a specific reaction in the functioning of the cell.

Response A complete response means that signs of cancer cannot be detected, based on your symptoms, physical exam, and radiology and lab tests. This does not always mean the cancer has been cured. A partial response is a decrease in the size of a cancer, or in the range of cancer in the body, in response to treatment. Also called partial remission.

Systemic Therapy Systemic therapy is treatment that treats the cancer but also affects the whole body (your whole system). For example, in breast cancer treatment, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and targeted therapy are systemic treatments.

Tumor Markers Tumor markers are substances normally present in small amounts in the blood or tissues. Cancer cells can sometimes make these substances. When the amount of these substances rises above normal, cancer might be present in the body.

Up next: 7 Tips for Balancing Responsibilities With Metastatic Breast Cancer

For more information on the terms covered in the Metastatic Breast Cancer Dictionary slideshow, download the PDF.

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