Glossary of Terms

Acral lentiginous melanoma – also called subungual melanoma, this type of cancer is found on non hair-bearing surfaces of the body, such as the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, under the nails, and on mucous membranes like the lips, mouth, nasal passages, and vagina.1

Actinic keratosis – a type of precancer that may develop into squamous cell carcinoma; it forms when cells in the top layer of the skin begin to grow abnormally and forms a rough, raised patch on the skin.2,3

Adjuvant therapy – a type of treatment that is used in addition to the primary treatment, usually referring to treatment after surgery such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy.1,2

Alternative therapy – a type of treatment used instead of standard medical treatment that has not been proven through the clinical scientific process to be effective.2

Asymmetry – a description that refers to the dissimilarity seen when one half of a mole does not match the other half.1

Basal cell carcinoma – the most common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinomas are non-melanoma and begin in the lowest layer of the skin (the basal layer). They usually develop on areas of skin that are exposed to the skin, such as the head and neck, and are generally slow growing.1,2

Basal cell nevus syndrome – an inherited condition that affects the skin, nervous system, eyes, bones, endocrine glands and the urinary and reproductive systems. It is also known as nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome and Gorlin syndrome. Basal cell nevus syndrome causes multiple basal cell carcinomas, jaw cysts, congential skeletal abnormalities, abnormal calcification of the falx cerebri (part of the dura mater in the brain), and pits on the palms of the hands and/or soles of the feet.4

Benign – not cancerous.1

Biopsy – a procedure in which a sample of cells or tissue are removed for examination under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present. There are several kinds of biopsies, including fine needle aspiration, incisional biopsy, excisional biopsy, and lymph node biopsy.1,2

Bone scan – a diagnostic test that is performed to see if cancer has spread to the bones.1

Breslow thickness – refers to the depth a melanoma has grown into the skin surface, measured in millimeters.1

Cancer – a general term that refers to a group of diseases in which cells in the body change and grow out of control; cancerous cells can invade and destroy healthy tissue and may spread to other parts of the body.2

Carcinoma – any cancer that begins in the lining layer (epithelial tissue) of organs, such as the skin.2

Cell – the smallest structural and functional unit of the body; groups of cells with similar structure and function form tissues.1

Chemotherapy – a type of treatment used to treat various cancers using various drugs that target fast-growing cells like cancer cells.1,2

Chest x-ray – an imaging test that uses electromagnetic waves to create pictures of the structures in the chest; it is used to see if cancer has spread to the lungs or other areas of the chest.1

Clark’s levelsClark levels are a staging classification system that has been historically used in melanoma and refers to the depth of involvement of the layers of the skin, or the vertical growth into the skin levels.5

Clinical trial – a type of research study in which new treatments are tested on human patients; clinical trials are an important part of the scientific process to find and prove the effectiveness and safety of new medications and treatments.1,6

Complementary therapy – products or practices that are not part of mainstream medicine that are used in combination with traditional medicine, such as acupuncture, dietary supplements, natural remedies, herbs, yoga, meditation, or art therapy.7

Computed tomography (CT) scan – an imaging test in which many x-rays are taken from different angles to create cross-sectional pictures of internal organs on a computer.2

Cutaneous – relating to the skin.1

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma – a non-Hodgkin lymphoma that occurs when the white blood cells called T-cells grow and multiply uncontrollably; although cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) is a type of blood cancer, it commonly involves the skin.8

Cryotherapy – a type of treatment that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze a skin lesion, such as actinic keratosis.3

Cytokines – chemicals produced by the cells of the immune system that act as chemical messengers to affect the immune response.1,2

Dermatology – the medical field that is focused on the diagnosis and treatment of skin diseases.1

Dermis – the thick layer of the skin that lies below the epidermis (the outer layer).1

Dysplastic nevi – moles that are atypical (different from common moles) and are generally large (with a diameter over 5 mm) with irregular and imprecise borders and variations in color.1

Epidermis – the outermost (top) layer of the skin.1

Excisional biopsy – a procedure in which a lesion is removed from the skin by cutting out the visible lesion as well as a margin of normal tissue around it.1

Fine needle aspiration (FNA) – a type of biopsy in which a needle is inserted to remove (apirate) fluid and cells, which are then examined under a microscope.1,2

Gene therapy – a type of treatment that replaces damaged genes with normal ones, or in which the genes are altered by treatment.1,2

Immunotherapy – is a type of treatment that aims to boost the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells.2

In situ – localized or “in place;” refers to cancer that has not spread and is in an early stage.2

Incisional biopsy – a procedure in which a lesion is removed from the skin by cutting it out.1

Invasive – refers to a cancer that has spread beyond where it started into nearby tissues.2

Kaposi sarcoma – a rare cancer that develops in the cells that line the lymph vessels and blood vessels and usually causes skin lesions.9

Lentigo maligna melanoma – a type of melanoma that is slow growing and develops in very sun-damaged skin.10

Lesion – an abnormal change in the structure of an organ (such as the skin) due to injury or disease.11

Lymph node – a small, oval-shaped structure that is part of the immune system and found along the lymphatic vessels; lymph nodes remove waste and harmful substances from the lymph fluid.1,2

Lymph node biopsy – a procedure in which one or more lymph nodes are removed to see if cancer has spread to them.2

Lymphatic system – part of the immune system that includes all the tissues and organs that produce and supply white blood cells (lymphocytes), including lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, and bone marrow.2

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a test that uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create pictures of the internal structures of the body, which are projected onto a computer screen and/or film.2

Malignant – cancerous; having characteristics of invasiveness and the ability to metastasize (spread).2

Margin – the edge or border of a tissue; doctors like to get “clean margins” around a cancerous tissue sample that is removed, with a layer of healthy, noncancerous cells around the cancer, in an effort to remove all the cancer.1,2

Melanin – the pigment made by melanocytes that gives color to the skin and eyes.1

Melanocytes – the cells that produce melanin that are primarily located in the basal layer of the skin.1

Melanoma – a type of cancer that forms from the melanocytes in the skin; it is very curable when treated in its early stages but is more likely than non-melanoma cancers to spread or metastasize.2

Merkel cell carcinoma – a type of cancer that develops from the Merkel cells, found in the top layer of the skin; it is a rare form of skin cancer, most common in older people and those with weakened immune systems.1,5

Metastatic – refers to cancer that has spread beyond its original location to other structures or organs.2

Mitotic rate – the frequency of cell division, which is higher in cancerous cells than healthy cells; a higher mitotic rate is associated with a higher potential for metastasis.1

Mole – a common, benign (noncancerous) growth on the skin that contains pigment (from a cluster of melanocytes); also called a nevus. Most moles are harmless but some can become cancerous, which is why monitoring moles is important in detecting skin cancer.1,12

Mucosal melanoma – a type of cancer that develops in the mucous membranes of the body (the nose, mouth, esophagus, anus, urinary tract, and vagina).1

Nevus – also called a mole; a benign, pigmented growth on the skin.1

Neoplasm – a new, abnormal growth or tumor that starts from an altered cell; may be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).2

Nodular melanoma – the most aggressive form of melanoma that grows vertically down into the tissue, rather than horizontally; appears as a firm, dome-shaped bump that may be blue to black, pink, or red.1,10

Oncology – the field of medicine that is focused on the study and treatment of tumors.1

Oncologist – physicians who have received additional training to diagnose and treat cancer; medical oncologist use chemotherapy and other drugs to treat cancer, while surgical oncologist use surgery to treat cancer.2

Palliative care – a specialized field of medicine that aims to alleviate symptoms and maximize the patient’s quality of life.1

Pathologist – a specialist physician who has expertise in diagnosing and classifying diseases by looking at cells under the microscope.2

Plastic surgeon – a surgeon who has specialty training in reducing scarring or disfigurement and reconstructing tissue to restore appearance.2

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan – an imaging test in which the patient is given an injection of a radioactive substance called a tracer, which is absorbed by cancerous cells making them easily identifiable on the 3-D images created by the computer.2

Precancerous – refers to tissue which may, or is likely to, develop into cancer.5

Primary tumor – also called primary cancer, refers to the original or first tumor in the body.1,5

Prognosis – the likely outcome or course of a disease; a forecast of how the disease will probably progress.1,5

Punch biopsy – a procedure that removes a small, round section of tissue using a hollow, circular instrument to test for cancer.1,5

Radial growth phase (RGP) – a pattern seen in melanoma that indicates the lesion is growing horizontally.1

Radiotherapy or Radiation therapy – a cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells; may be given externally, using a machine that is guided to direct radiation beams directly to the tumor site, or it may be given internally, using radioactive substances that are placed inside the body at the tumor site.1,2

Recurrence – the return of a cancer after treatment or after a period of remission.1,2

Regression – a decrease in the size of a tumor or the amount of cancer in the body; can also refer to an area within a melanoma where there is an absence of growth.1,2

Satellites – areas of the cancer that have spread more than 0.05 mm from the primary location.1

Sentinel lymph node – the first lymph node in an area that would be the most likely to have cancer if it has spread.1

Sentinel lymph node biopsy – a procedure to remove the first lymph node to test if the cancer has spread beyond the primary tumor; a dye is injected prior to surgery to detect the sentinel node.1,2

Shave biopsy – a procedure in which the top portion of a lesion is removed with a scalpel, usually done in a dermatologist’s office.1

Squamous cell carcinoma – a type of cancer that begins in the squamous cells – flat cells found in the surface of the skin, the lining of organs, and the lining of the digestive and respiratory tracts; most commonly develops on parts of the body that receive the most sun exposure.2,5

Superficial spreading melanoma (SSM) – the most common type of melanoma, this type of skin cancer grows horizontally before invading deeper layers of the skin; may appear as a mole that has asymmetry, uneven borders, or color variation.1,10

Symptom management – a type of care that focuses on the problems from a disease or its treatment; may also be called palliative care.1

Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) – white blood cells that have come to the site of a tumor; may be a sign of the immune response to a cancer.1,5

Ulceration – a lesion that has eroded the skin or mucous membrane, formed when surface cells die and are discarded.5

Ultraviolet light therapy – also called UV radiation therapy or light therapy, it is the use of light waves as a treatment and is used in treating several skin disorders; UV light is on the spectrum between visible light and x-rays with a wavelength between 400 and 10 nanometers.1,13

Vertical growth phase (VGP) –a pattern seen in melanoma that indicates the lesion is growing vertically, deeper into the tissues.1

Xeroderma pigmentosum – an inherited condition that creates an extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation and is associated with a high risk of skin cancer.5

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