45 Cancer Terms and Acronyms: A Glossary by a Survivor

Hello friends, your friendly editor, Jim, here. I’d like to introduce you to Anj Oto. Anj is a communications professional and breast cancer survivor from Honolulu, Hawai’i. She is here to improve our health literacy by introducing us to several cancer terms and acronyms. Here’s Anj…

Getting Diagnosed with Cancer

I was diagnosed with ER+, HER2+ breast cancer at the age of 33. Because I have a family history of breast cancer, I qualified for early annual screening mammograms. I truly believe that this saved my life, and am now passionate about encouraging others to conduct self-checks and pursue proactive screenings if they have risk factors for cancer.

Like many patients nowadays, I found out I had cancer through MyChart, my hospital’s online app. A couple days after my biopsies, I got a push notification on my app and opened it to see a pathology report.

I was immediately overwhelmed by the amount of medical jargon in the report, but there was one word I knew and recognized immediately: carcinoma.

Over the past eight months, I’ve undergone fertility treatments, a lumpectomy, a sentinel lymph node biopsy, a port insertion, chemotherapy, neoadjuvant treatments, and radiation therapy. 

Completing each phase of treatment has come with its own set of terms and acronyms, used by healthcare workers and in the cancer community. I found myself constantly looking up words to understand what they meant for me and my treatment. I prepared the below glossary and started an Instagram page in hopes that these tools could help some patients who are newly diagnosed or simply navigating life as a cancer patient.

This experience has taught me that knowledge is power. Whether you are experiencing cancer, a chronic illness, or another health challenge, understanding your condition and what you need to recover from it can help you to best advocate for yourself.

Anj Oto: breast cancer survivor

Note: Please keep in mind that I am not a medical professional.

General Cancer Terms

  • AYA: Adolescent and Young Adult cancer patients (ages 15-39)
  • Biopsy: Procedure that removes sample cells/tissue to test for cancer
  • Cancerversary: An annual anniversary of your diagnosis/cancer-free declaration date/whatever you want
  • Carcinoma: A type of cancer cells (look out for this term on pathology reports, but note that there are other types of cancer cells)
  • Chemo: Chemotherapy
  • Dx: Diagnosis
  • Mets: Metastasis; when cancer has spread to another part of the body
  • MO: Medical oncologist
  • NED: No evidence of disease
  • Path: Pathology, report delivered post-biopsy/surgery
  • PICC: Peripherally inserted central catheter, used to access a vein for blood draws/infusions
  • Port: Port-a-cath, a device placed under the skin and attached to a vein to access for blood draws and infusions
  • PS: Plastic surgeon
  • Rads/RT: Radiation therapy
  • RO: Radiation oncologist
  • Scanxiety: Fear/anxiety about future scan results/other test results
  • TW: Trigger warning (used in posts, forums, etc.)

Breast Cancer Acronyms

  • AIs: Aromatase inhibitors; used to prevent estrogen production
  • BC: Breast cancer
  • BRCA-1/BRCA-2: Breast cancer genes identified via genetic testing
  • BM/BMX: Bilateral mastectomy
  • DCIS: Ductal carcinoma in situ
  • DIEP: Deep inferior epigastric perforator flap breast reconstruction
  • ER: Estrogen receptor, denoted + or –
  • HER2: Human epidermal growth factor, denoted + or –
  • HRT: Hormone replacement therapy
  • IBC: Inflammatory breast cancer
  • IDC: Invasive ductal carcinoma
  • ILC: Invasive lobular carcinoma
  • LCIS: Lobular carcinoma in situ
  • LX: Lumpectomy
  • MBC: Metastatic breast cancer
  • MX: Mastectomy
  • PR: Progesterone receptor, denoted +or –
  • SNB: Sentinel lymph node biopsy
  • TNBC: Triple negative breast cancer (ER-, PR-, HER2-)

Scan/Test Terms

  • Bone Density Scan: An X-ray scan used to determine bone density and osteoporosis risk
  • CBC: Complete Blood Count test used to review different blood cell levels (commonly ordered throughout chemo)
  • CT (or CAT) Scan: Computed tomography scan used to see inside your body; often paired with a contrast drink prior to the scan (ick!)
  • Echocardiogram: An ultrasound to review how your heart muscle and valves are working
  • EKG: Electrocardiogram; used to record the activity of your heart (e.g. rhythm, blood flow)
  • Mammogram: A type of X-ray that look for changes in your breast
  • MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging; used to produce clear images of the body (sometimes with IV contrast)
  • PET Scan: Positron emission tomography scan; used to take images of certain parts of the body
  • Ultrasound: Imaging using sonography to capture images in the body

AUTHOR: Anj is a communications professional and breast cancer survivor from Honolulu, Hawai’i. Following her cancer diagnosis, she decided to use her lifelong career in storytelling to help patients and caregivers navigate their journeys with cancer. You can find Anj on Instagram (@anjscancerjourney), LinkedIn (@anjoto), and at onwardwithanj.substack.com

You’ll receive updates about new resources, patient stories and insights, advocacy work, and alerts about patient-support events.