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Glossary of Terms

A

The presence of extra breast tissue that may be associated with extra nipples. Often found towards the armpit.

An infection of the breast with a collection of pus in the breast tissues.

This occurs when bacteria get into the breast. It is particularly likely to occur during breastfeeding, due to the milk ducts in the breast being more exposed than normal.

The absence of the mammary glands (either through surgery or developmental defect).

The dark area that surrounds the nipple

Areola-sparing mastectomy is defined as resecting the nipple and any existing surgical biopsy scar, removing all breast parenchyma, and leaving a natural envelope of skin (including the areola), which may improve the aesthetic result of immediate reconstruction. Suitability for this type of reconstruction will depend on the type of cancer present.

Arimidex is a type of hormonal therapy used in the treatment of breast cancer in women who have had their menopause. It is an aromatase inhibitor (see below).

Aromasin is a type of hormonal therapy that is used in the treatment of breast cancer in women who have had their menopause. It is an aromastase inhibitor (see below).

These are drugs that block the formation of oestrogen.

A disorganised overgrowth of the cells in the breast lobule.  This may indicate an early form of genetic or genomic instability within the breast.

The absence of nipples.

Abnormal cells in the breast milk ducts which are considered to show a higher risk of developing breast cancer.  Patients with ADH should have regular check-ups.

An overgrowth of the cells in the breast lobule in a disorganized way that may represent the earliest form of instability within the breast.

The armpit region.

A procedure which dissects the lymph nodes in the axilla (armpit) during surgery, usually performed in conjunction with breast cancer surgery.

The glands in the armpit region.   There are around 20 lymph glands in each armpit which can increase in size if infected, or if invaded by cancer cells.

B

Also known as benign mammary dysplasia, cystic mastitis, fibroadenosis and fibrocystic change is a condition occurring as a result of normal hormonal activity during the menstrual cycle.

A harmless breast lump which is not cancerous.

A non-cancerous growth or swelling that does not invade, or spread to, other parts of the body.

A method of viewing any cancer deposits in the skeleton by injecting a radioactive material into the blood stream.  Areas of bone containing groups of cancer cells may appear as hot spots.

A gene (on chromosome 17) identified during genetic testing, which can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

A gene (on chromosome 13) identified during genetic testing, which can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

A collection of pus within the breast.

Breast enlargement using an implant.

C

The uncontrolled abnormal division of cells.

The basic building blocks of all body organs.

Treatment for cancer with powerful (cytoxic) drugs by mouth or injection, under the care of a consultant oncologist.  Side effects can include sickness, tiredness, hair loss and mouth ulcers.

An xray investigation to determine whether cancer has spread to the lungs. It is also used, prior to surgery, to check that the patient is well enough to undergo a general anaesthetic.

A specialist in radiotherapy treatment for cancer.

A doctor who specialises in interpreting x-rays, mammograms and ultrasound imaging of the breast.

A breast needle biopsy, carried out under local anaesthetic, to obtain a small piece of tissue for examination (histopathology); this can also be carried out under x-ray or ultrasound control.

Chromosomes are microscopic structures, found in the nuclei of cells.  The nucleus of most human cells contains 2 sets of chromosomes, one from each parent.  Every human has 24 distinct chromosomes, including the X and Y sex determining chromosomes. 

Also known as benign breast disease, or fibrocystic disease. This is where there is a discrete lump (fibroadenoma) or general lumpiness in the breast causing discomfort. There may be a discharge from the nipple and it tends to be worse pre-menstrually.

A specialist in radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy treatment for cancer.

A common cause for a breast lump consisting of a fluid-filled space within the breast.

A doctor, who specialises in looking at cells using a microscope.

The assessment of breast cells under a microscope to look for abnormalities.

D

A very early form of breast cancer, which can be referred to as a pre-malignant (pre-cancerous) condition.  It develops only within the milk ducts and cannot spread.

E

Breast tissue found in a site other than related to the normal position of the breast.

Eczema, or dermatitis as it is sometimes called, is a group of skin conditions which can affect all age groups. The severity of the disease can vary. In mild forms the skin is dry, hot and itchy, whilst in more severe forms the skin can become broken, raw and bleeding. Although it can sometimes look unpleasant, eczema is not contagious. With treatment the inflammation of eczema can be reduced, though the skin will always be sensitive to flare-ups and need extra care.

The amount that an insured patient has agreed to have as a responsibility to pay for a claim when taking out and insurance policy. It can either be an annual amount or a per claim amount.

Excision biopsy, by a breast surgeon guided by a consultant radiologist, using a wire placement, or skin marking prior to surgery.  It is used to remove an impalpable abnormality (one that could not be detected by physical examination).

F

The occurrence of breast cancer within members of a family which may, or may not, pre-dispose the patient to breast cancer.

A condition in which an area of fat in the breast becomes hard and nodular.  It can occur after breast trauma.  This is a benign condition but can sometimes mimic breast cancer.  It usually occurs in women with large breasts.

A digital xray machine used to examine core biopsy samples taken to ensure that the area of microcalcification has been captured in the needle pass.

Femara is a type of hormonal therapy that is used in the treatment of breast cancer in women who have had their menopause. It is an aromatase inhibitor.

The removal of cells from the breast for assessment (cytology) using a thin needle and a syringe.

A benign solid breast lump found mainly in young women. It is thought to result from increased sensitivity to oestrogen.

G

A blocked milk duct leading to a cystic collection of milk, usually associated with breast feeding and childbirth.

Genes comprise particles of DNA, packaged in chromosomes.  They determine when and where the body makes each of the many thousands of proteins required for life and instruct cells in their growth and function.  Humans have 20-30,000 genes.  Researchers hunt for disease associated genes has resulted in a number being identified, including some that are pre-determiners for cancer.  Better understanding of the function of genes and their contribution to disease is leading to increasingly improved treatments.

Relating to genes; the term indicates something inherited, this can include a pre-disposition to certain diseases.

 

 

The Human Genome Project has identified all the human genes carried on the chromosomes.  The Human Genome Sequence affects, among other things, an individuals response to disease and particular medicines.

A condition in which men develop enlargement of the breast tissue behind the nipple.  Common in pubertal boys and older men, it can be caused by many common medications.  In 90% of teenage boys, it tends to resolve itself within two years.  The condition normally requires investigation to exclude breast cancer.

H

Hamartomas are an uncommon benign breast lesion composed of variable amounts of adipose, glandular and fibrous tissues. They are usually asymptomatic but may be palpable. Most occur in women over 35. A confident diagnosis can be made on mammography when the lesion has a classical appearance.


A localised collection of blood usually clotted, in an organ, space or tissue.

A test to determine HER2 protein levels to determine whether the cancer may respond to drugs called monoclonal antibodies.

A drug used in treating breast cancer which acts by blocking certain growth receptors (known as HER-2) on the surface of tumour cells.  Only 20% - 25% of women will be sensitive to Herceptin. It also helps the bodys immune system to destroy breast cancer cells.

A doctor, who specialises in looking at tissues using a microscope.

The assessment of tissues under a microscope to look for abnormalities.

A protein on a cell's surface that attracts a particular hormone and uses it to help the cell grow.

A test to discover whether breast cancer cells are sensitive to oestrogen and progesterone to determine whether hormone therapy is an appropriate treatment.

I

A breast reconstruction carried out immediately following a total mastectomy under the same anaesthetic.

A type of fibroadenoma in which the connective tissue is much more prominent and compresses the ductal element.

A benign epithelial tumour occurring within the breast ducts. It can cause nipple discharge which may be blood stained.

K

A rare genetic condition, in which affected men have an extra female chromosome.  They may have an increased susceptibility to breast cancer.

L

A pre-malignant (pre-cancerous) condition which develops in the lobules of the breast.  Patients with this condition require careful monitoring.

An ultrasound investigation to determine whether the cancer has spread to the liver. 

Guidance by a Consultant Radiologist for a Consultant Breast Surgeon by use of a wire placement or skin marking prior to surgery to remove an impalpable abnormality.

The surgical removal of a lump in the breast.

The accumulation of lymph fluid in the arm leading to arm swelling.

M

The medical term for cancerous.  It is used to describe a tumour, which has the potential to grow quickly and spread.

The ducts behind the nipple become dilated. This is a normal breast change. Sometimes fluid collects in the ducts and they get blocked leading to a discharge, inflammation or an infection.

A tract between the nipple and the skin at the edge of the areolar, usually the result of infection with an abscess.

A breast x-ray, generally only suitable for women aged 35 or over, performed by a radiographer and viewed by a consultant radiologist.

The medical term for breast pain.

Removal of an entire breast or segment of a breast (segmental mastectomy).

Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast. There are two types of mastitis, acute or chronic. Though both cause inflammation, pain and tenderness in the breast they are different in cause.

A consultant who specialises in chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormonal treatments for cancer.

Where the breast cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.

Tiny 'salty' grains of calcium which show up on a mammogram.  This is normally an age-related change, but it can be a sign of cancer or DCIS.

This is a rare benign condition which involves a blood clot of the superficial veins of the breast and anterior chest wall.

A type of breast cancer drug used to treat people who are HER2 positive, about 20% - 25% of cases. The most commonly known is Herceptin.

Sebaceous glands, not associated with hair follicles, that are found in the skin of the areola and open into the ducts just beneath the nipple. They form visible swellings on the areola and can become inflamed.

A harmless but noisy multi-dimensional imaging scan using a very high strength magnetic field which creates detailed images of the body.  An injection of dye is sometimes used.

N

The central area of the breast comprising of the areola and the nipple

An operation which removes sufficient skin at time of mastectomy to leave a flat scar on the chest.

O

Progesterone is one of two main hormones, the other being oestrogen, made by the ovaries of menstruating women.

The medical speciality dealing with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

A Consultant Breast Surgeon who performs both the total mastectomy and the breast reconstruction.

Some medical insurance companies cap how much benefit they will pay annually for outpatient treatment eg consultations, xrays etc. This is known as an outpatient allowance.

P

The technique used in examining a breast, to assess the type, size and location of a lump.

A benign  tumour of epithelial cells.

A type of precancerous lesion that looks like eczema or dermatitis. This affects the nipple and the areola and is sometimes associated with DCIS or an invasive cancer.

A doctor who specialises in looking at cells and tissues using a microscope; also referred to as a cytologist (cells) or histopathologist (tissue).

A type of fibroadenoma characterized by rounded duct like structures surrounded by concentric rings of connective tissue.

A condition in which inflammation occurs in the area around the main ducts beneath the nipple. It is related to cigarette smoking and causes recurrent abscess and fistulae. It is very difficult to treat if the woman continues to smoke.

A rare type of breast lump that may grow quite large, normally occur in women between 40 and 50 who have not yet been through the menopause. They are usually benign but occasionally can be malignant. Usually treated by surgical removal.

All x-rays excluding mammograms.

The presence of more than one pair of breasts.

The presence of extra nipples. These can occur anywhere along the nipple line that runs from the armpit region to the groin.

Progesterone is one of two main hormones, the other being oestrogen, made by ovaries of menstruating women.

R

A radiographer is the person trained in taking xrays.

A radiotherapist is a doctor specialising in treating disease using radiotherapy.

Painless form of high energy x-ray treatment used to destroy cancer cells carried out by a Clinical Oncologist/ Radiotherapist.

S

They originate from blocked oil glands in the skin. They are found on most areas of the body including the breast. Cysts can become red and tender when infected and have a collection of pus. They are always benign and do not develop into cancer but although normally a cosmetic problem excision is advised when formed in places that are easily irritated so will continually recur.

Part of the cost of treatment not paid for by a medical insurance company arising from benefit restrictions or policy conditions.

An operation in which most of the skin of the breast is left behind, apart from the nipple areola complex. This helps if an immediate reconstruction is being carried out as the original skin of the breast can be used. Suitability for this type of reconstruction will depend on the type of cancer present.

Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of non-melanoma skin cancers. It is the second most common skin cancer in the UK.

An xray investigation of the pelvis to exclude pelvic instability. Used in the diagnosis of groin disruption (Gilmore’s Groin) to ensure that there is no other reason for the symptoms. Also known as flamingo views. 

T

Medication for the treatment of breast cancer, which can also be used as a low dose treatment for breast pain.

Consultant and Examination (Assessment), Analysis of cells removed by fine needle aspiration (Cytology) and Mammography and/or Ultrasound (Imaging).

A breast abscess caused by the tuberculosis bacteria. Unlike a normal breast abscess this is not usually associated with redness or heat and is often called a cold abscess.

U

High frequency sound waves which are converted into an image of the breast.  Ultrasound is used to diagnose breast problems in women under the mammogram age limit of 35, or as an additional investigation for patients who have had a mammogram.

This is a term used to describe the breast of some people affected by certain genomic, or genetic breast cancers, which are more likely to be multi-centric or to spread through the breast.

V W

An operation to remove, for pathological review, a suspicious or cancerous lump with a small margin of normal tissue around its edge.

X Y Z

X-Ray is a form of invisible electromagnetic, short wavelength energy, that can be used to produce images of bones, organs and internal tissues.


Zoladex is a type of hormonal therapy that is used in the treatment of breast cancers and some other conditions for women who have not had the menopause. It stops the production of leuteinising hormone from the pituitary gland, which leads to a reduction in oestrogen levels. The cancer cells then grow more slowly or stop growing altogether. The cancer may shrink in size.

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