Medical Terminology You May Encounter During Cancer Treatment

Diagnosis and treatment of cancer can be a difficult and scary time and there are many areas of uncertainty which can make it even harder to cope.

With any medical condition, the terminology used by doctors can sometimes make it even harder to understand what is going on which can make it more unsettling. Medical terminology will be used whether you receive treatment from the NHS or through a private oncologist.

However, there are many common terms which are easy to understand which can make your treatment journey a bit easier. These words are often used by medical professionals who may sometimes assume you already know their meaning and may not elaborate unless you ask.

One common term used when diagnosing and treating cancer is malignant. This is just another word for cancerous and will be used when discussing the cancer cells, where they are and where they are spreading.

Although malignant may sound like a scary medical term, it is just used interchangeably with cancer or cancerous and therefore if a medical professional uses this term during your treatment, it isn’t cause for additional concern or worry.

Benign, on the other hand, is a term used when describing a tumour, growth or cells which are not cancerous. Again, this word might sound confusing or scary, but it is actually quite the opposite and shows an absence of cancerous cells.

Metastatic is used when referring to the spread of cancer. This is usually used when discussing stage 4 cancer and is used to describe cancerous cells which have spread, or metastasised.

This may also be referred to as secondary cancer. This term is used if cancer has spread from where it started to another area of the body. For example, if a cancerous growth begins in the breast and moves into the lymph nodes, this would be known as secondary cancer.

Primary cancer, therefore, refers to where the cancer originally started. Regardless of where cancer spreads to or how far travels it will usually still be referred to by the place it was first found.

Prognosis is a term used across the medical field for a range of issues which simply refers to the likely course or outcome of a condition and its treatment. This includes how it will progress, develop and how the treatment is likely to work out.

The grade of cancer is a scale used to determine the speed of growth of cancerous cells. This ranges from one to three, one being cancerous cells which look normal and aren’t growing or multiplying rapidly, three being cancerous cells which appear abnormal and are fast spreading.

The grade should not be confused with the stage when referring to cancer as they have entirely different meanings and could cause confusion.

The stage refers to the size of the cancer and how far it has spread, regardless of how fast it has done so. This is described on a scale from zero to four, zero being cancer which hasn’t spread at all, four being cancer which is metastatic cancer and has spread to other areas.