Glossary of Advanced Breast Cancer Terms

Advanced breast cancer – a term that encompasses both locally advanced breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer.

Axillary lymph nodes – the lymph nodes found under the arm.

Axillary lymph node dissection – a surgical procedure in which several lymph nodes are removed from the underarm and tested for the presence of breast cancer cells.

Bone metastases (or bone mets) – spread of the breast cancer to the bone.

Brain metastases (or brain mets) – the spread of breast cancer to the brain.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 – genetic mutations that occur in some inherited breast cancers that can increase the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

Chemotherapy – a treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer (malignant) cells; chemotherapy drugs work by targeting rapidly dividing cells, like cancer cells.

Ductal carcinoma – breast cancer that develops from the cells that form the milk ducts in the breast.

Genetic testing – testing used to identify certain mutations that someone may be born with that may increase their risk of developing cancer.

Genomic testing – a type of test done on cancer tissue that can determine the particular mutations that occur in the cancerous tissue; results may be helpful in determining the risk of recurrence (cancer coming back) or which treatments might be most effective

Hormone receptor-positive – breast cancers which have receptors on the surface of the cancer cells which hormones can attach to and accelerate the growth of cancer; these breast cancers may be treated with hormone therapy.

Hormone receptor negative – breast cancers that do not have receptors for hormones on the surface of their cells.

Hormone therapy (also called endocrine therapy) – a type of treatment used in women who have breast cancers that are hormone receptor positive (ER+ or PR+) to block the hormones and stop or slow cancer from growing and spreading.

Hospice (or end-of-life care) – compassionate care is given at the end of someone’s life that often involves a team of people to provide medical care, pain management, emotional support, and spiritual support.

Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) positive – breast cancers which have a surplus of receptors for the HER2 protein; these breast cancers may be treated with targeted therapy that targets this mutation.

Inflammatory breast cancer – a rare type of breast cancer that may not form a tumor that can be felt, but causes the breast to look inflamed: red, warm, and swollen.

Infraclavicular lymph nodes – lymph nodes located below the collarbone.

Liver metastases (or liver mets) – spread of the breast cancer to the liver.

Lobular carcinoma – breast cancer that begins in the cells that form the glands that produce breast milk.

Lumpectomy – a breast-conserving surgery that removes cancerous tissue and a layer of healthy cells (called clean or clear margins) from the breast; lumpectomy aims to preserve the appearance of the breast while removing the cancerous area.

Lung metastases (or lung mets) – spread of the breast cancer to the lungs.

Lymph nodes – bean-shaped structures that are found along the lymphatic vessel pathways; they contain white blood cells and can be one of the first areas breast cancer may spread to.

Lymphedema – a condition of irregular swelling that may occur after surgery or radiation for breast cancer that involves the lymph nodes; may involve swelling of the hand, arm, breast, chest, and/or underarm area.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – an imaging test that uses powerful magnets and radio waves to generate pictures of the internal structures of the body and may be used to create detailed images of the structures within the breast.

Mammography – the use of x-rays to take pictures of the breast tissue.

Modified radical mastectomy – surgical removal of the entire breast, skin, nipple, areola, and many axillary lymph nodes.

Metastasis – when cancer spreads to distant parts of the body.

Metastatic breast cancer – breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast tissue to other areas of the body.

Mutations – changes to the DNA, which may be inherited (passed from parent to child) or acquired (occur due to exposure to environmental or lifestyle influences).

Oophorectomy (also called ovarian ablation) – a surgical procedure where the ovaries are removed.

Paget disease, or Paget disease of the nipple – a rare form of breast cancer that develops in the ducts and spreads to the nipple and areola (the pigmented area around the nipple).

Palliative care – treatment that focuses on alleviating symptoms or side effects from cancer, and cancer treatment, and maximizing the patient’s quality of life but does not focus on curing the disease or prolonging life; palliative care is often used alongside other treatments for breast cancer.

Radiation therapy – a type of local treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells in a specific area.

Recurrence – a return of cancer that someone had previously.

Sarcoma – a rare form of breast cancer that develops in the connective tissue of the breast

Second cancer – a second type of cancer that is unrelated to the primary (first) cancer.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy – the first one or two lymph nodes that are the primary drainage point for the breast are removed and tested for the presence of breast cancer cells.

Supraclavicular lymph nodes – lymph nodes located above the collarbone.

Targeted therapy – a type of treatment that stops or slows the spread of cancer by interfering with specific areas of cancer cells that are involved in the cancer cell’s growth processes.

Triple-negative – breast cancers which do not have receptors for the hormones estrogen or progesterone, or receptors for HER2 (ER-, PR-, and HER2-); these breast cancers can be more challenging to treat as they don’t respond to the drugs that target these receptors.

Ultrasound – a screening tool that uses sound waves to produce a picture and can help differentiate between a fluid-filled lump (such as a harmless cyst) or a solid lump.

Vasomotor symptoms – symptoms that often occur in women during the transition to menopause (perimenopause), shortly after menopause, and potentially years post-menopause but may also be a side effect of some treatments for breast cancer; common vasomotor symptoms are hot flashes, night sweats, and flushing.

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: December 2018.