30/11/2016 08:46 GMT | Updated 30/11/2017 05:12 GMT

Breast Cancer Jargon, Explained

If you or a loved one have just received news that breast cancer is now part of your lives, you might find yourself looking for answers while dealing with big emotions. You might also find that breast cancer jargon feels like a foreign language course you didn't sign up for.

You're not alone. Below, I offer a summary, perhaps easier to digest than a full glossary -- of common breast cancer terminology and definitions to help you.

1. Aromatase inhibitors - Drugs that block production of oestrogen by the adrenal gland - used to treat hormone-sensitive breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

2. Axillary Lymph Nodes - The lymph nodes in the underarm, which are sometimes affected by breast cancer (see Lymphatic System, below).

3. Biopsy - A biopsy is the diagnostic procedure used to evaluate living tissue. You can have either an incisional surgical biopsy, involving part of a tumor or an excisional biopsy, involving the entire tumor or abnormal area.

4. BRCA1/BRCA2 Genes (Breast Cancer Genes) - Alone, BRCA1 and BRCA2 are just human genes which help repair DNA. However, if your BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a harmful mutation (it's inherited), you're at increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Genetic testing can help determine if you have this mutation.

5. Calcifications - As we age, women often develop tiny deposits of calcium in the breast tissue. They appear as white dots on a mammogram and are very common. If clustered up in certain noticeable patterns, they could be early signs of cancer and your doctor might want to investigate with additional screening or biopsy.

6. Ductal Carcinoma - Ductal Carcinoma (DCIS) is the most common type of non-invasive cancer, and consists of abnormal cells found in the milk ducts, the tubes that carry milk to the nipples. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) has spread from the lining of the ducts into the fatty tissue of the breast.

7. HER2 status - HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) is the gene that creates HER2 proteins (receptors) on breast cells. In normal breasts, HER2 receptors help control how a healthy breast cell grows, divides, and repairs itself.

8. Hormone Receptors - Proteins on cells, to which hormones attach. If a cell has a lot of hormone receptors, it needs that hormone to grow. Breast cancer cells are tested for their hormone receptors, and their status is used to help choose effective hormone-targeted therapies.

9. Inflammatory Breast Cancer - A rare but aggressive type of breast cancer that spreads quickly and is characterised not by a lump, but by warm, tender or itchy skin, skin that appears "thick" or pitted like the skin of an orange, nipple discharge, discoloration or unexplained swelling.

10. Lobular Carcinoma - Abnormal cells found in the lobules, where milk is produced in the breast. Lobular Carcinoma in situ (LCIS) is confined to the lobules and therefore not immediately life-threatening.

11. Lymphatic System/Lymphoedema - The lymphatic system carries fluid from tissues to lymph nodes via a network of its own vessels. When the lymphatic system has been compromised by surgery and/or radiation, this lymph fluid cannot travel unimpeded, and instead spreads to surrounding tissues. The result is Lymphoedema, a swelling of the limbs or extremities.

12. Margins - When a tumor is removed, the margin is the normal tissue that surrounded it.

13. Metastatic Breast Cancer - Breast cancer that has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body. Also referred to as "advanced" breast cancer.

14. Neoadjuvant Therapy (Preoperative therapy) - Chemotherapy or hormone therapy used as a first treatment, usually with larger tumours.

15. Oophrectomy - Removal of the ovaries. Sometimes both oophorectomy and mastectomy are part of the risk-reduction plan for women with harmful BRCA gene mutations.

16. Prophylactic Mastectomy (Preventive Mastectomy) - Mastectomy is surgical removal of the breast, and prophylactic or preventive mastectomy does so before cancer has been detected. Many women who learn they have a very high risk for breast cancer choose preventive mastectomy to reduce that risk significantly.

17. Prosthetic (Breast Prosthetic, Prosthesis) - An artificial breast, made of silicone, soft foam or other material, that can be worn under clothing after a mastectomy. Amoena is the originator of the silicone breast prosthesis.

18. Radiation Therapy - The use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. Radiation can be delivered by external-beam radiation therapy or internally, known as brachytherapy.

19. Tamoxifen - A drug which blocks oestrogen action, and is used as a treatment after breast surgery.

20. Triple-Negative Breast Cancer - Breast cancer that is ER-negative, PR-negative and HER2-negative is known as Triple-Negative. About 20% of breast cancers are triple-negative.

Your local support group and your medical team are the best resource for learning more about breast cancer -- and getting support from people who've been there.

For the full summary of Breast Cancer terminology, visit