Glossary

Click on a letter to jump to that section.

Adrenal cortical carcinoma – Also known as adrenocortical carcinoma. Cancer in outer layer of the adrenal gland, called the cortex. The adrenal glands are above the kidney and make some hormones.

Ashkenazi Jews / Ashkenazi Jewish – a group of people of mainly Central or Eastern European Jewish descent, who have a similar genetic ancestry.

Bilateral – on both sides of the body, eg a bilateral mastectomy is the removal of both breasts.

Blood clot – A solid lump of blood. Blood clots can lead to problems such as a blocked vein in the leg or lung. Also known as thrombosis.

Blood relative – a person who is related to you by birth (rather than marriage or adoption).

BRCA1 – a gene. Faults in this gene are linked to the development of breast and some other cancers.

BRCA2 – a gene. Faults in this gene are linked to the development of breast and some other cancers.

Breast awareness / breast aware – Being breast aware means knowing what your breasts look and feel like normally, being on the lookout for unusual changes and getting them checked by your doctor.

Breast cancer – any cancer that starts in the breast tissue. Breast cancers can sometimes spread to other areas of the body.

Breast screening – check of the breast using imaging (eg x-rays or scans) to look for any unusual areas of tissue within the breast that could be a sign of breast cancer.

Breast care team – a group of healthcare professionals responsible for providing breast cancer treatment and care, usually including a breast care nurse, surgeon, radiologist, radiographer, oncologist and pathologist or cytologist.

Breast reconstruction – surgery to rebuild the shape of the breast after breast cancer surgery. Commonly used techniques involve the use of a breast implant or the use of skin and tissue from other areas of the body (for example the back or stomach).

Colon – also known as the large bowel. Part of the digestive system.

Contraceptive pill – also known as the birth control pill or ‘the pill’. Tablets containing the hormone progestogen, and sometimes also oestrogen, taken to prevent pregnancy.

Chemoprevention – tablets used to help prevent breast cancer in women at increased risk due to their family history. Tamoxifen and raloxifene are recommended for this purpose.

Clinical geneticist – a healthcare professional who specialises in genetics and the care of people who have a genetic condition.

Clinical trials – tests of a new treatment or diagnostic technique in a group of patients, to test whether it is more effective than current options.

Dense breast tissue – breasts with a high proportion of breast tissue (glands and ducts) and lower proportion of fatty tissue. Breasts tend to become less dense with age. Breast density can differ from woman to woman.

DNA – inherited material containing genes in humans and other living things; nearly every cell in your body contains the same DNA.

Diagnostic genetic test – a blood test in a person who has had breast cancer and a family history of the disease, to check whether they have a known fault in one of their genes that could be linked to breast cancer.

Direct-to-consumer genetic tests – genetic tests provided directly to a person by a private organisation without a medical consultation. Breast Cancer Now does not recommend the use of these tests, because they can be unreliable and are sometimes not provided alongside genetic counselling.

Embryologist – a specialist in the growth and development of embryos and fertility treatment.

Embryo – a fertilised egg that is developing, up to about the first eight weeks of pregnancy (when it becomes a foetus).

Endometrial cancer – also known as womb cancer or uterine cancer. Cancer of the lining of the womb. Symptoms include unusual bleeding from the vagina.

Fallopian tubes – part of a woman’s reproductive system. Women have two Fallopian tubes: one for each ovary. They carry an egg from the ovary to the womb as part of the monthly menstrual cycle.

Family history – pattern of disease running in families, eg a person with a number of family members who have had breast cancer is said to have a family history of the disease.

Family history clinic – a clinic that specialises in providing assessment and care for women with a family history of a condition (such as breast cancer). Often, women at moderate risk of breast cancer receive care at a family history clinic (rather than genetics clinic), but this can differ by area of the UK.

Faulty gene / faulty breast cancer gene – a gene with a change (mutation) that may disrupt its function and lead to disease. Breast cancer gene faults can lead to breast cancer.

Fatigue – excessive tiredness or exhaustion.

Fatty tissue – body tissue that contains a high proportion of fat cells. Breasts naturally contain some fatty tissue.

First degree relatives – your parents and any sisters, brothers, daughters, and sons you have.

Flu – short for influenza. Symptoms of influenza include a fever, chills, tiredness, aches, a cough, upset stomach, headache and tiredness.

Gene – a section of DNA that controls a particular aspect of how your body functions; genes are the instructions (or recipes) for cells.

Gene fault – a fault (mutation) in a gene that may disrupt the gene’s function and lead to disease. Breast cancer gene faults can lead to breast cancer.

Genetic counsellor – a healthcare professional trained in communicating and discussing the risk of inherited conditions.

Genetic counselling – a service provided by a specially-trained counsellor, giving information, support and advice about genetic conditions, such as an inherited risk of breast cancer. Genetic counselling aims to help patients understand their risk and make decisions about their care.

Gene fault – a change (mutation) within a gene that may disrupt its function and lead to disease. Breast cancer gene faults can lead to breast cancer.

Genetics clinic – a clinic that specialises in providing assessment and care for women at risk of a genetic condition, such as an inherited risk of breast cancer. Women at high risk of breast cancer usually receive care at a genetics clinic.

Genetic condition – an illness related to a particular gene a person has inherited. Breast cancer that is linked to an inherited faulty gene is a genetic condition.

Genetic tests – tests of a person’s DNA to see whether they have particular faults in genes that might be linked to an illness (or risk of developing an illness), such as an increased risk of breast cancer.

Glioma – a particular type of tumour that starts in the brain or spine. (Not all brain or spine tumours are glioma.)

Healthier lifestyle – this can include maintaining a healthy weight, having a healthy diet, being regularly physically active and limiting alcoholic drinks.

Healthy weight – for women, a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9, or a waist circumference below 32 inches (80cm). See nhs.uk for more information.

Heart disease – condition of the heart. Can lead to problems such as angina or heart attack.

High risk – having a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer of at least 30%. This is much higher than the average woman’s risk in the UK.

This group includes known BRCA1, BRCA2 and TP53 mutations and rare conditions that carry an increased risk of breast cancer such as Peutz-Jegher syndrome (STK11), Cowden (PTEN) and familial diffuse gastric cancer (E-Cadherin).

Hormone therapy – drugs that can help prevent and treat breast cancer by stopping the natural hormone oestrogen from encouraging some breast cancers to grow.

Inherited – passed down from a parent (or both parents) to a child. In the case of breast cancer, an increased risk of breast cancer can by passed to a child through gene faults.

In vitro fertilisation / IVF – a process by which an egg is fertilised outside the body. IVF is commonly used to help treat some types of infertility.

Keyhole surgery – also known as laparoscopy. A surgical procedure that allows a surgeon to access the inside of the body through small cuts in the skin. This can reduce scarring and allow a shorter hospital stay and faster recovery.

Li-Fraumeni syndrome – a rare disorder that increases the chance of developing several types of unusual cancers, especially some occurring in children and young adults; it is associated with mutations in the TP53 gene, which is known to be linked to breast cancer.

Lymphoedema – long-term swelling in the tissues, which can occur in the arm or upper body after breast cancer surgery or radiotherapy. It is caused by a build-up of extra fluid.

Mammogram / mammography – a procedure using x-rays with a low amount of radiation to produce an image of the inside of the breast. Used to look for unusual areas in the breast that could be a sign of breast cancer.

Mastectomy – surgical removal of virtually all breast tissue from one or both breasts.

Menopause – the change when a woman stops having a regular menstrual cycle (periods). Usually occurs in a woman’s early fifties.

Milk ducts – tubes in the breast that link the milk glands to the nipple. In breastfeeding women, they carry milk to the nipple.

Milk glands – areas within the breast that can make milk.

Moderate risk – having a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer of at least 17% but less than 30%. This is higher than the average woman’s risk in the UK.

Mental health conditions – these conditions affect the way we think, feel or behave, eg anxiety or depression.

MRI – magnetic resonance imaging. A scan using radio waves and a magnetic field to create images of the inside of the body. Can be used to look for an unusual area in the breast that could be a sign of breast cancer.

Musculoskeletal conditions – conditions that cause aches, pains or damage in the muscles, joints or bones.

Mutation – change or fault in a gene; this could have no effect or could lead to disease developing.

Near population risk – having a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer that is about the average for woman in the UK (up to 17%).

Non-paternity – instance where a father is found not to be the natural father of a child (they are not a blood relative and therefore not genetically related to their child).

Obese – having a much higher amount of body fat than is healthy. For women, this means a body mass index of over 30, or a waist circumference over 35 inches (88cm). See nhs.uk for more information.

Oestrogen – a hormone naturally produced by the body that plays a role in the female reproductive system. Oestrogen can encourage some types of breast cancer to grow.

Oestrogen receptor – a protein on the surface of some cells that allows oestrogen to attach to the cells and signal to them.

Oophorectomy – surgical removal of the ovaries.

Oncologist – a doctor specialising in the treatment of cancer (often using drugs).

Ovarian cancer – cancer of an ovary, which is part of the female reproductive system.

Ovaries – the part of the female reproductive system that produces eggs.

Overweight – having a higher amount of body fat that is healthy. For women, this means a body mass index of 24.9 to 30, or a waist circumference of 32 to 35 inches (80 – 88cm). See nhs.uk for more information.

Pancreatic cancer – cancer of the pancreas, an organ that is part of the digestive system.

Peritoneum – the membrane (or sack) in the abdominal area that covers the organs there eg the liver and bowel.

Population risk – having a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer that is about average for a woman in the UK (about 12.5%)

Predictive genetic test – a blood test in a person who has not had breast cancer, to check whether they have a known fault in one of their genes that could increase their risk of developing the disease. These tests are usually conducted after a relative who has had breast cancer has been found to carry a faulty gene.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis – a process involving IVF (in vitro fertilisation) that tests embryos for a specific gene fault, so that an embryo that does not carry the fault can be implanted into the womb. This technique can be a way for potential parents who carry a BRCA fault to ensure it is not passed onto their future children.

Progestogen – a type of hormone that is sometimes included in the contraceptive pill. The natural version of the hormone (progesterone) plays a role in the female reproductive system.

Prostate cancer – cancer of the prostate gland. This gland is found only in men and produces the fluid part of semen.

Psychological support – support to help handle thoughts, emotions and mental health conditions.

Raloxifene – a drug used to reduce breast cancer risk in women at moderate or high risk of developing the disease due to their family history. It is also used to treat osteoporosis.

Rectum – last part of the bowel.

Referral / Refer – Process by which a healthcare professional (such as a GP) asks another area of the health service to provide treatment or care to their patient. Often, this involves them writing a letter.

Risk – the chance that something will happen.

Risk assessment – the process by which the chances of something happening can be estimated.

Risk management – the process by which the chance of something happening (or its effect) can be reduced. For example, risk management in people with a family history of breast cancer can reduce the chance of them developing breast cancer or help to ensure that the disease is found early if it does occur.

Risk-reducing – procedure or intervention carried out to help to reduce the risk of a disease rather than to treat it, eg a risk-reducing mastectomy is carried out to reduce the risk of breast cancer in the future, rather than to treat breast cancer now.

Risk-reducing drugs / chemoprevention – tablets used to help prevent breast cancer in women at increased risk due to their family history. Tamoxifen and raloxifene are recommended for this purpose.

Salpingo-oophorectomy – surgical removal of the Fallopian tubes and ovaries.

Sarcoma – a tumour that grows from cells in the soft tissues of the body; can involve the muscles, fat, deep skin tissue, nerves, tissue around the joints, bone, cartilage, tendons and blood vessels.

Second degree relative – your grandparents and any aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, half-sisters and half-brothers you have.

Seroma – swelling in a wound (for example after surgery) caused by fluid build-up. Usually improves over time.

Significant family history – a family history strong enough to suggest an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Specialists – healthcare professionals with specialist knowledge and training in family history, genetics or both. Including family history nurses and genetics counsellors, clinical geneticists, and genetics nurse specialists.

Specialist services – in this guide, when we say ‘specialist services’, we mean family history clinics and genetics clinics.

Stroke – a serious medical condition where the blood supply to part of the brain gets cut off. Some people make a good recovery, but others can have lasting problems or die from their stroke.

Surgeon – a doctor specialising in surgery.

Tamoxifen – a drug used to treat breast cancer and also to reduce risk in women at moderate or high risk of developing the disease due to their family history.

Thrombosis – A solid lump of blood (also known as a blood clot). Blood clots can lead to problems such as a blocked vein in the leg or lung.

TP53 – a gene. Faults in this gene are linked to a high risk of developing many cancers, including breast cancer; faults in TP53 are very rare.

Type 2 diabetes – a condition that causes a person’s blood sugar to become too high. Once a person has developed the disease, they will have it for the rest of their life.

Young age – in terms of cancers, having cancers at a ‘young age’ often means they occur before the age of 50 (or 40 for breast or ovarian cancer). It is hard to give an exact age, as some types of cancer commonly occur in different age groups than others. Ask your doctor if you are unsure.

Back to top