Health A-Z

Health A-Z

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adjuvant therapy

Treatment for breast cancer after initial surgery, but before there is any evidence of recurrence. This type of therapy is designed to kill any remaining tumour cells in the body that are undetectable at the time.

Alzheimer's disease

A disease in which the brain gradually deteriorates and one progressively loses memory, the ability to speak, and the ability to feed ones-self. In the end stages, this disease results in death.

atrophy

A condition in which a given tissue lacks stimulation by a hormone and it undergoes changes that interfere with its function. For example, the lining of the womb (endometrium) undergoes atrophy after menopause and for this reason the monthly periods stop.

bilateral breast cancer

Breast cancer in both breasts. Both cancers are sometimes diagnosed at the same time but more commonly, one is diagnosed first and the second occurs from one to several years later.  

bone formation

A process in which new bone is made to replace old bone, which is removed. This occurs during the process of bone remodelling, just like the remodelling of a house, where old things are removed and new things are put in.

bone mineral density

This is a term used to describe the strength or density and reflects the amount of calcium present in bone. When the bone mineral density is low, osteopenia (moderate loss of bone density) or osteoporosis (severe loss of bone density) exists. There are no specific symptoms except for an increase in fractures.

bone resorption

A process in which old bone is removed to make way for new bone that forms. This occurs during the process of bone remodelling, just like the remodelling of a house, when old things are removed and new things are put in.

breast tumour grade

Under the microscope, breast cancer can be given a grade based upon its appearance. Grade I has the best prognosis and Grade III the worst. There are a number of criteria used to put each tumour into a certain grade. 

chemotherapy-induced menopause

Some types of cancer treatments (chemotherapy) can result in the death of cells in the ovary that make oestrogen and cause menopause.

clinical trial

When physicians want to learn if a therapy or medication works, they create a clinical trial to learn what will happen when patients are treated in a certain way. They closely examine what happens in groups of patients studied and followed over a period of time.

contralateral breast cancer

When breast cancer is first diagnosed on one side, the cancer developing on the other side is called contralateral.

coronary

This word refers to the main arteries that supply blood to the heart-the coronary arteries. When coronary arteries are clogged, heart problems can develop.

designer estrogens

Drugs have been developed that act as oestrogens on some tissues and as oestrogen blockers (anti-estrogens) on others. An example is raloxifene, which blocks the effect of oestrogen on the breast and uterus (womb), but acts as an oestrogen on the bone. 

DEXA Scan

Dual X-ray absorptiometry scan. This is an X-ray technique that is used to measure the amount of bone present and to help diagnose conditions in which a woman has a low amount of bone, such as osteopenia or the more severe condition, osteoporosis.

FDA

The United States Food and Drug Administration. This is a USA federal government agency that approves new drugs.

Hazard rate

This is a technical term which indicates the chance each year that a certain harmful event will happen. For example, the hazard rate for tumour recurrence is an indication of the percent chance that the tumour will come back in a one year period of time.

HDL cholesterol

A type of cholesterol that protects against heart disease and is called good cholesterol. The formal name is High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol. 

histologic grade

This is the same thing as the tumour grade. Histologic refers to the appearance of any tissue under the microscope.

HT (hormone therapy) [previously called HRT (hormone replacement therapy)]

This could either be oestrogen alone or oestrogen plus a progestin.

incontinence

Sudden and unexpected loss of urine.

ischaemic heart disease

The type of heart disease that causes heart attacks. The word "ischaemic" refers to the lack of oxygen in heart muscle tissue that occurs when the arteries to the heart are blocked. 

LDL cholesterol

A type of cholesterol that increases the risk of heart disease and is called bad cholesterol. The formal name is Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol.

libido

The interest in and urge to have sex.

menopause

Time of life when the ovaries stop making oestrogen and the monthly (menstrual) periods stop.

meta-analysis

This is a way to evaluate the results of several similar trials by adding together the results from all of the trials. The idea is that if one trial gives an answer and many trials evaluated together give the same answer, it is likely that the answer is correct. 

micrometastasis

This refers to tumour that has spread to other parts of the body. These metastases ( distant tumour deposits) can either be very small ( micro in size or micrometastases) or large and easily detectable ( macro-metastases or detectable metastases).

NBCC

The NHMRC National Breast Cancer Centre (now the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre) was opened in June 1995 by the Commonwealth Government in response to community concerns about the human costs of breast cancer.

nodal status

Nodal status refers to the number of lymph nodes that contain cancer. Breast cancer spreads from the breast tissue to the lymph nodes under the axilla (armpit). Lymph nodes are tissues that act like filters to stop the spread of infection to areas nearby. When cancer has spread to lymph nodes, the risk of having the disease return is higher and the prognosis (probability of a cure) is lower. The greater the number of lymph nodes that contain cancer, the worse the prognosis.

observational study

In this type of study, groups of patients who are already receiving certain therapies are followed to learn about the safety and effectiveness of one therapy compared with another. Because there is no randomisation procedure (selection of who will get which therapy by a coin-toss-type of decision), other things may have influenced the choice of therapy. This type of study may sometimes give results that are incorrect. 

occult metastases

A metastasis is the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body. Occult means that they are hidden because they are too small to be detected.

oestrogen receptor

A substance in the body that binds to oestrogen. The receptor is like a lock mechanism, and oestrogen is the key that fits the lock. Oestrogen only works in the body if it binds to an oestrogen receptor.

oestrogen

The major female hormone that causes the breasts to develop in young girls and causes development of the uterus (womb). This hormone also can stimulate the growth of breast cancer tissue.

oophorectomy

Removal of the ovaries by surgery. 

osteopenia

A condition of moderate loss of bone density or strength. A woman with osteopenia has a risk of broken bones that is higher than normal, but not as high as with the more severe condition, osteoporosis.

osteoporosis

This is a condition of low amounts of bone density or strength. With this problem, there is a high frequency of broken bones, especially the hip and the spine. As osteoporosis progresses, a woman becomes shorter because the vertebrae (bones in the spine) collapse together, and the spine curves in the chest area ("dowager's hump"). Hip fracture is the most significant risk with this condition.

PBAC

Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee responsible for listing of drugs on the Schedule of Pharmaceutical Benefits.

PBS

The list of drugs making up the Schedule of Pharmaceutical Benefits subsidised by the Commonwealth Government.

perimenopausal

Describes up to five years of life just before monthly (menstrual) periods stop completely due to menopause. During this time, symptoms of menopause may occur, disappear, and then reappear.

postmenopausal

Describes the time after menopause when the monthly (menstrual periods) have stopped and the ovaries no longer make oestrogen.

premenopausal

Describes the time of life when a woman gets monthly periods (menses).

progesterone

A female hormone that acts on the uterus (womb) to prepare it for receiving an egg following fertilization by a sperm from the man. When progesterone levels go down each month, this causes the bleeding associated with menstrual (monthly) periods. 

progesterone receptor

A substance in the body that binds to progesterone. The receptor is like a lock mechanism, and progesterone is the key that fits the lock. Progesterone only works if it binds to the progesterone receptor.

progestin

This is a synthetic form of progesterone. This class of drugs was originally developed to allow absorption by mouth for use in birth control pills. Progestin means that these medications work like progesterone in the body.

randomised trial

A type of clinical trial in which two or more types of treatment are used on groups of patients. The decision about which patient should use which treatment is made through a randomisation procedure. Patients are assigned their treatment in random order, through a method that gives them assignments similar to a coin-toss decision.

statistical power

This is a phrase used to indicate how likely a study is to give an accurate answer, according to the number of patients that will be included in the trial.

TGA

Therapeutic Goods Administration is responsible for drug approval in Australia. 

triglyceride

A type of fat (lipid) that circulates in the blood like cholesterol and increases the risk of heart disease.

tumour recurrence

After initial surgery for breast cancer, the tumour can come back. This is called tumour recurrence.

urogenital atrophy

This refers to two separate problems. One is genital atrophy and the other is atrophy of the urinary system. Genital atrophy means that the tissues of the vagina become thinner because of the lack of oestrogen. This results in itching, pain during sexual intercourse, and a greater frequency of vaginal infection. Atrophy of the urinary system means that the tissues of the bladder (sac that holds urine) and urethra (tube through which urine drains) become thinner. This results in more frequent urination (urinating), incontinence (involuntary loss of urine), and frequent urinary infections.

vasomotor instability

A condition that causes hot flushes. The blood vessels become unstable (vasomotor instability) and suddenly open up and allow a large amount of blood to flow through the skin. This results in redness of the face (hot flush) and a sudden sensation of warmth. These symptoms last for 1-5 minutes, followed by coldness and clamminess because of the cooling off of perspiration.

Content updated July 21, 2002

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