Glossary of Terms

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There are currently 174 names in this directory
The belly; the part of the body that contains all of the structures between the chest and pelvis.
Acinar Cells
Special cells in the pancreas that produce digestive enzymes.
Acquired Mutations
Genetic changes that develop during a person’s lifetime, either as a random error made in DNA copying or as a result of harmful environmental factors.
Active Immunotherapy
Activation of specialized immune cells to recognize and destroy abnormal chemicals in tumor cells.
Practice of inserting needles through the skin into specific points on the body to reduce pain or induce anesthesia.
Acute Pain
Sudden, short-lived pain that subsides when healing occurs.
Cancer that begins with cells that line certain internal organs and have gland-like properties.
Adjuvant Drug
A drug that, when added to another drug speeds or improves its effect.
Adjuvant Therapy
A treatment given after surgery.
Advance Directives
Documents involved in a patient’s healthcare that allow others to know which types of care that patient wants and does not want, or to determine who will make medical decisions if the patient cannot do so.
Alcohol Nerve Block
Procedure in which a local anesthetic is injected into the nerve root of the celiac plexus using guidance by ultrasonography or computed tomography to produce numbness or reduce pain.
Alternative Therapy
Treatments that have not been scientifically tested used in place of traditional therapies. (See also Unconventional Therapy.)
Ampulla of Vater
Enlargement of the ducts from the liver and pancreas at the point where they enter the small intestine; bile from the liver and secretions from the pancreas come through the Ampulla of Vater to mix with food in the duodenum and aid digestion.
A drug that reduces pain: acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin are analgesics.
Formation of new blood vessels; some cancer treatments work by blocking angiogenesis, called antiangiogenesis, with the goal of slowing or preventing tumor growth.
Drugs used to prevent or treat seizures; they may also be used to enhance the effect of pain medications.
Drugs used to treat depression; they may also be used to enhance the effect of pain medications.
Drugs that help to prevent and control nausea and vomiting.
Not cancerous; benign tumors do not spread to tissue near them or to other parts of the body.
Fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder; bile is excreted into the small intestine, where it helps digest fat.
Bile Duct
A tube in the liver through which bile passes.
Dark-green substance formed when red blood cells are broken down. The bilirubin is part of the bile; the abnormal buildup of bilirubin because of an obstruction causes jaundice.
Bioelectromagnetic-Based Therapy
Involves the use of pulsed energy or magnetic fields to change the body’s electromagnetic fields and treat illness.
Biofield Therapy
Various forms of energy work to assist in healing.
Process of removing tissue samples, which are then examined under a microscope to check for disease.
Biopsy Specimen
Tissue removed from the body and examined under a microscope to determine whether disease is present.
Borderline Resectable
Some cancers that might have just reached nearby blood vessels, but which the doctors feel might still be removed completely with surgery.
BRCA1 Gene
A gene that normally helps to suppress cell growth; a person who inherits an altered version of this gene has a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian, or prostate cancer, and possibly pancreatic cancer.
BRCA2 Gene
A gene that normally helps to suppress cell growth; a person who inherits an altered version of this gene has a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian, prostate, or pancreatic cancer.
Brush Biopsy
A procedure used with endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP); a small brush is inserted through an endoscope and into the bile duct and pancreatic duct to scrape the inside of the ducts to collect cells for examination.
Any of a group of diseases in which the cells are abnormal, grow out of control, and can spread.
Cancer Antigen 19-9 (CA 19-9)
A protein on the surface of certain types of cells that is shed by tumor cells into the bloodstream; higher-than-normal amounts of CA 19-9 in the blood can sometimes be a sign of colorectal or pancreatic cancer.
Cancer Stem Cells
Subpopulation of cancer cells believed to be responsible for starting and maintaining the cancer.
Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA)
A protein that may sometimes be found in the blood of people who have certain types of cancers, and not usually found in healthy persons.
Persons who provide help with daily activities, coordinate healthcare and other services, and provide emotional and other types of support for patients.
A flexible tube used to deliver fluids into, or withdraw fluids out of, the body.
Celiac Plexus
Complex network of nerves in the abdomen.
Radiation therapy used in combination with chemotherapy.
Use of drugs to kill cancer cells.
A health profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mechanical disorders of the muscles and bones, and the effects of these disorders on the function of the nervous system and general health; it emphasizes manual treatments, including spinal manipulation.
Chronic Pain
Pain that occurs over a long period of time that may range from mild to severe.
Chronic Pancreatitis
Condition in which inflammation irreversibly damages the pancreas; or chronic damage with persistent pain or malabsorption.
Clinical Trial
The study of a drug, procedure, or medical device to determine its safety and effectiveness in people; there are many types of clinical trials used to find better ways to prevent, screen for, diagnose, and treat disease, and to improve quality of life. (See also Phases of Clinical Trials.)
Complementary Therapy
Treatment methods added to conventional or traditional therapy.
Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
Medical imaging test in which a scanner takes detailed, cross-sectional, X-ray images from many different angles that are combined by a computer.
A condition of the digestive system in which a person experiences hard stools that are difficult to eliminate; constipation may be painful and, in severe cases, may lead to a blockage of the bowel.
How people or family members come to terms with an illness, make decisions, solve problems, and adapt to life’s changes, while still feeling good about themselves.
Diabetes Mellitus
Disease in which the body does not properly control the amount of sugar in the blood, resulting in high levels; it occurs when the body does not produce enough or any insulin or does not use it properly.
Distal Pancreatectomy
Surgical procedure in which the tail and body of the pancreas are removed, usually along with the entire spleen; sometimes, part of the body of the pancreas can be preserved.
Deoxyribonucleic acid; DNA is the molecule in the cell nucleus that carries the instructions for making living organisms.
Dual-Phase Helical CT Scan
Imaging test for evaluating patients suspected of having pancreatic cancer; this type of computed tomography scan can detect about 98 percent of pancreatic cancers.
A channel leading from an exocrine gland or organ.
The first part of the small intestine that connects to the stomach.
Durable Power of Attorney For Healthcare
The legal designation of a person responsible to make medical decisions for a patient when that patient cannot do so.
Effectiveness; the power to produce a desired result.
Endocrine Gland
A gland that secretes its hormone directly into the bloodstream that flows through it, rather than through an opening; endocrine tissue comprises 5 percent of the pancreas.
A physician who specializes in disorders of glands of the endocrine system.
Thin, tube-like instrument used to look at tissue inside the body; an endoscope has a light and a lens for viewing and may have a tool to remove tissue.
Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
Minimally invasive procedure during which a thin, lighted tube is passed down the throat, through the stomach and small intestine, and into the bile duct and pancreatic duct to view them for obstruction and to take X-rays.
Endoscopic Ultrasonography (EUS)
Procedure in which an endoscope is inserted down the throat and into the stomach and duodenum; a probe at the end of the endoscope is used to bounce high-energy sound waves off internal organs to make images.
Proteins that speed up chemical reactions in the body and that the body produces naturally; enzymes help the body with functions such as digesting food.
The tube that connects the throat with the stomach; the esophagus lies between the trachea (windpipe) and the spine; it passes down the neck, pierces the diaphragm, and joins the upper end of the stomach.
Exocrine Gland
A gland that secretes its fluid through a duct; exocrine tissue comprises 95 percent of the pancreas.
External Beam Radiation Therapy
Treatment for cancer in which a beam of high-dose radiation is focused on the tumor from outside of the body.
Familial Atypical Multiple Mole Melanoma (FAMMM) Syndrome
Genetic syndrome in which many different-sized, asymmetrical, raised moles are present; may be associated with melanoma or pancreatic cancer.
Familial Breast Cancer Syndrome
People who have the breast cancer gene BRCA2 mutation have an increased risk of several cancers, among them pancreatic cancer.
Fine-Needle Aspiration (FNA) Biopsy
Technique in which a thin needle is inserted into a tumor; cells are removed and examined under a microscope.
First-Degree Relative
Parents, children, or siblings of an individual.
Pear-shaped organ located under the liver in which bile is concentrated and stored.
A physician who specializes in disorders of the digestive system.
The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to child; most genes contain the information for making a specific protein. Genes are composed of DNA.
Healthcare Proxy
A person chosen by the patient to make medical decisions for that patient.
Inflammation of the liver.
Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colon Cancer (HNPCC; Lynch Syndrome)
Syndrome in which there is a higher-than-normal chance of developing colon, pancreatic, uterine, stomach, or ovarian cancer.
Hereditary Pancreatitis
Rare disease in which patients develop episodes of recurrent pancreatitis at an early age.
Homeopathic Medicine
System of medicine based on the premise that “like cures like”; practitioners believe that a substance that produces a set of symptoms in a healthy person will, in small doses, cure those symptoms in a person with a disease.
Concept of care that emphasizes palliative care rather than cures, quality of life over quantity, and comfort measures for patients provided at home, at a hospice facility, or in a hospital.
Lowest part of the small intestine, located beyond the duodenum and jejunum, just before the large intestine (the colon).
Imaging Tests
Methods used to produce pictures of internal body structures; for example, X-ray films, ultrasonography, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Informed Consent
Process in which a person is given important facts, such as the risks and benefits, about a medical procedure or treatment or a clinical trial before deciding whether to participate.
Inherited Mutations
DNA mutations carried in a person’s reproductive cells and potentially passed on to that person’s children. (see also Mutations.)
A hormone made by islet cells of the pancreas that controls the amount of sugar in the blood by moving it into the cells, where it can be used for energy.
Integrative Therapy
Combined use of a proven treatment and a complementary therapy.
Intraductal Papillary Mucinous Neoplasm (IPMN)
A tumor of the pancreas that produces mucus that clogs and enlarges the pancreatic duct; IPMNs may progress to invasive pancreatic cancer if left untreated.
Intrathecal Injection
Injection into the space surrounding the spinal cord.
Intravenous Injection
Injection directly into a vein.
Islets of Langerhans
Collections of cells in the pancreas that produce insulin and glucagon, important regulators of sugar metabolism.
Condition in which the skin and the whites of the eyes become yellow, urine may become dark, and stool may become clay-colored; occurs when the liver is not working properly or a bile duct is blocked.
Portion of the small intestine that extends from the duodenum to the ileum.
KRAS Oncogene
A gene capable of causing cancer when altered; drugs that block its activity may stop cancer growth. Sometimes spelled K-ras.
Small telescope-like instrument connected to a video monitor.
Laparoscopic Ultrasonography
Procedure that uses a laparoscope, inserted through the abdominal wall, and is guided by ultrasonography.
Procedure during which a laparoscope is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen by which the internal organs can be viewed and tissue samples removed for examination.
Living Will
One of several documents called advance directives that designate what kind of medical care a patient wants, or does not want, in the event the patient cannot speak for himself or herself.
Locally Advanced
Cancer that is confined to the area around affected organ but cannot be surgically removed because the tumor may be intertwined with major blood vessels and may have invaded surrounding organs. There is no evidence of spread to other areas of the body.
Lymph Nodes
Small, bean-shaped structures in the neck, underarm, groin, chest, abdomen, pelvis, near the pancreas, and throughout the body; they store white blood cells.
Lymphatic Fluid
Fluid that circulates through the lymph vessels and empties into blood vessels in the upper chest.
Lymphatic System
The body’s complex set of lymph nodes, lymph cells, and lymph vessels that fight infection and disease.
A type of white blood cell that helps fight infection and disease.
Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography (MRCP)
Imaging method that is safe and fast; a form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) used to view the bile duct and pancreatic duct.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Imaging method that uses powerful magnets to view internal organs and structures; the energy from the magnets is absorbed by the body and released. A computer translates the energy patterns into detailed images of areas inside the body.
Cancerous; malignant tumors can invade and destroy nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body.
Medical Oncologist
A physician who is trained to prescribe anticancer medications.
Serious form of skin cancer that begins in melanocytes (cells that make the pigment melanin).
Cancer that has spread beyond the area of the affected organ or part of the body and involves other organs, such as the liver or lungs, or other areas.
Multidetector Row Helical CT (MDCT) Scan
Helical CT scanner with multiple detector rows; advantages over other CT scanners include improved image resolution and rapid scanning of large volumes.
Multidisciplinary Care
Team approach to the care of patients with cancer in which physicians in many different areas of specialization join to provide their expertise and experience.
Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 1 Syndrome (MEN1; Wermer’s Syndrome)
A rare, inherited disorder that affects the endocrine glands and can cause tumors in the pancreas and other organs, which usually are not cancerous.
Errors in the DNA code that occur in the process of cell replication and division; certain mutations may lead to cancer or other diseases. (See also Inherited Mutations.)
Naturopathic Medicine
Practitioners work with patients to provide nutritional and lifestyle counseling using dietary supplements, medicinal plants, and traditional Chinese medicine.
Neoadjuvant Therapy
A treatment given before surgery.
New growth; a tumor that may be benign or malignant.
Nerve Block
Procedure in which a local anesthetic is injected around a nerve to produce numbness or pain reduction.
Cutting or destroying part of pain fibers to help control pain.
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Drugs that reduce inflammation and pain.
Oncology Nurses
Nurses with specialized training in managing the treatment and care of patients with cancer; they may administer chemotherapy drugs, help in management of side effects, and provide patient education.
Oncology Social Workers
Social workers professionally trained to counsel patients with cancer and help provide practical assistance, for example, by helping patients find support groups and locate services.
Strongest pain relievers available.
Form of conventional medicine that emphasizes diseases arising in the musculoskeletal system.
Palliative Care
Healthcare that specializes in the relief of suffering and improvement in quality of life.
Palliative Surgery
Any noncurative surgical procedure that may be used in patients with pancreatic cancer to help relieve symptoms such as jaundice, nausea, vomiting, and pain to improve quality of life.
An organ of the digestive system located deep in the abdomen that produces both pancreatic enzymes to aid in the digestion of food and hormones such as insulin.
Pancreatic Duct
Main duct that runs along the entire length of the pancreas and merges with the bile duct.
Inflammation of the pancreas.
A physician trained to examine cells under a microscope for the diagnosis of cancer and other diseases.
Patient-Controlled Analgesia (PCA)
Method of pain relief, commonly used after surgery in the immediate postoperative period, in which the patient controls the amount of pain medication by pressing a button on a computerized pump connected to a small tube in the body; patients cannot use more than the prescribed amount because the device is programmed for a maximum dosage.
Membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and covers most of the abdominal organs.
Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome (PJS)
Genetic disorder in which polyps form in the intestine and dark spots appear on the mouth and fingers, and that increases the risk of developing many types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer.
Phases of Clinical Trials
Sequential steps of clinical trials designed to answer specific questions and build on information from the previous phase. Phase 1: Determines the side effects of a new drug by gradually increasing the dosage and analyzing patients’ responses. Phase 2: Determines if the new drug has the potential to be better than current treatments. Phase 3: Determines if the treatment is better than, as good as, or not as good as the accepted standard treatment.
Physician Assistant
Trained professional who has completed an accredited program and is board-certified to perform certain duties of a physician, under the supervision of a licensed physician; some duties include history-taking, physical examination, and minor surgical procedures.
A substance that has no active ingredient.
Positron Emission Tomography (PET scan)
Imaging test in which a small amount of radioactive glucose is injected into a vein, a camera detects the radioactivity, and a computer generates detailed images; because cancer cells absorb much more glucose than normal cells, images created by a PET scan can be used to find cancer cells in the pancreas and other parts of the body.
Power of Attorney
Legal document that appoints a person to make financial decisions for the patient when the patient cannot.
A molecule made up of amino acids needed for the body to function properly; proteins are the basis of body structures such as the skin and hair, and of substances such as enzymes.
Proven Therapy
A conventional, traditional, or standard treatment that has been tested and is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Pylorus-Preserving Whipple Procedure
Surgical procedure in patients with pancreatic cancer that removes most of the duodenum, the head of the pancreas, part of the bile duct, the gallbladder, and lymph nodes in the area of the pancreas; in this procedure, the stomach is spared.
Questionable Therapy
Unproven or untested treatments.
Radiation Oncologist
A physician trained in treating cancer with high-dose X-rays.
Radiation Therapy
Also called radiotherapy; treatment of cancer with irradiation.
Giving off radiation.
Radioactive Glucose
Sugar injected into the body to make specific tissue more visible during a PET scan.
A physician trained to interpret many different imaging techniques.
Also called radiation therapy; treatment of cancer with irradiation.
Cancer that can be surgically removed. In pancreatic cancer, these tumors may lie within the pancreas or extend beyond it, but there is no involvement of the critical arteries or veins in the area. There is no evidence of any spread to areas outside of the tissue removed during a typical surgery for pancreatic cancer.
Risk Factors
Characteristics, habits, or environmental exposures shown to increase the odds of developing a disease.
Any objective evidence of a disease, for example, evidence perceptible to the examining physician. (See also Symptoms.)
Single-Agent Drug
A drug that is used as the only treatment.
An organ located on the left side of the abdomen, near the stomach, that is part of the lymphatic system; it produces white blood cells, filters the blood, stores blood cells, and destroys old blood cells.
Stage IA
The tumor in the pancreas is 2 cm or smaller and has not spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body. Stage IA cancer that has not spread beyond the pancreas may be resectable, or able to be surgically removed.
Stage IB
The tumor in the pancreas is larger than 2 cm and has not spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body. Stage IB cancer that has not spread beyond the pancreas may be resectable, or able to be surgically removed.
Stage IIA
The tumor extends beyond the pancreas but has not spread to nearby lymph nodes, major blood vessels, or other parts of the body. Stage IIA cancer that has not spread beyond the pancreas may be resectable, or able to be surgically removed.
Stage IIB
The tumor is any size and is either limited to or extends beyond the pancreas and has spread to lymph nodes but not to major blood vessels or other parts of the body. Stage IIB cancer that has not spread beyond the pancreas may be resectable, or able to be surgically removed.
Stage III
The tumor has spread to nearby blood vessels, may or may not have spread to nearby lymph nodes, but the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body. Cancer in this stage is considered to be locally advanced.
Stage IV
The cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This is called metastatic cancer.
Staging Cancer
A standardized way to classify a tumor based on its size, whether it has spread, and where it has spread; staging measures the extent of the disease.
Device placed in a body structure (such as the pancreatic duct) to keep it open.
Under the skin.
Supportive Care
In patients with cancer, use of medications to prevent or counteract unwanted side effects of cancer or its treatment to increase quality of life.
Subjective sensations of the patient. (See also Signs.)
Systemic Treatment
In cancer, a treatment in which a drug enters and travels throughout the body to reach tumor cells.
Targeted Therapy
Treatment designed to kill only cancer cells and not healthy cells.
TNM System
A system used to evaluate cancer; T stands for tumor, N for node, and M for metastasis.
Total Pancreatectomy
Procedure now seldom used to remove the entire pancreas and spleen in patients with pancreatic cancer.
Through the skin.
Tumor Markers
Substances, usually proteins, produced by a cancer or by the body’s response to the presence of cancer that can be detected in the blood.
Also called a sonogram, ultrasonogram, or ultrasound scan; imaging method that bounces sound waves off internal organs to produce echoes; a computer creates patterns from these echoes that can determine whether tissue is normal or abnormal.
Unconventional Therapy
Term used to cover all types of complementary and alternative treatments that fall outside of proven therapies. (See also Alternative Therapy.)
Cancer that has grown beyond the pancreas and has invaded vital structures around the pancreas. Unresectable cancer cannot be entirely removed by surgery.
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Whipple Procedure
Surgical procedure in patients with pancreatic cancer that removes part of the stomach, the duodenum, the head of the pancreas, part of the bile duct, the gallbladder, and lymph nodes in the area of the pancreas.
Legal document that describes how a person wants his or her money and property divided after death.
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