25 Words You Should Know: Breast Cancer Diagnosis

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

From: healthline.com

Being diagnosed with breast cancer is overwhelming in itself. And when you’re finally ready to embrace your diagnosis and move forward, you’re subjected to a whole new vocabulary associated with the cancer. That’s why we’re here.

Discover the top terms you’re likely to encounter as you go through the breast cancer diagnosis journey.


A doctor who examines your biopsy or breast tissue under a microscope and determines if you have cancer. A pathologist provides an oncologist or internist a report that includes a diagnosis of the grade and subtype of your cancer. This report helps guide your treatment.

Imaging tests:

Tests that take pictures of the inside of the body to detect or monitor cancer. Mammogram uses radiation, ultrasound uses sound waves, and MRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves.


Stands for “ductal carcinoma in situ.” This is when abnormal cells are in the milk ducts of the breast but haven’t spread into or invaded the surrounding tissue. DCIS isn’t cancer but can develop into cancer and should be treated.


A screening tool that uses X-rays to create images of the breast to detect early signs of breast cancer.


Stands for “human epidermal growth factor receptor.” A protein that is overexpressed on the surface of some breast cancer cells and is an important part of the pathway for cell growth and survival. Also called ErbB2.


A way of classifying tumors based on how much the tumor cells resemble normal cells.

Hormone receptors:

Special proteins found inside and on the surface of certain cells throughout the body, including breast cells. When activated, these proteins signal cancer cell growth.

Genetic mutation:

A permanent change or alteration in the DNA sequence of a cell.


Stands for “estrogen receptor.” A group of proteins found inside and on the surface of some breast cancer cells that are activated by the hormone estrogen.


A biological molecule secreted by some cancer cells that can be measured, usually by a blood test, and used to detect and monitor treatment for a disease or condition.

Lymph nodes:

Small clumps of immune tissue that act as filters for foreign material and cancer cells that flow through the lymphatic system. Part of the body’s immune system.


Stands for “progesterone receptor.” A protein found inside and on the surface of some breast cancer cells, and activated by the steroid hormone progesterone.


A report that contains the cellular and molecular information used to determine a diagnosis.

Needle biopsy:

A procedure in which a needle is used to draw a sample of cells, breast tissue, or fluid for testing.


Subtype of breast cancer that tests negative for all three surface receptors (ER, PR, and HER2) and accounts for 15 to 20 percent of breast cancers.


Stands for “invasive lobular carcinoma.” A type of breast cancer that starts in the milk-producing lobules and spreads to surrounding breast tissue. Accounts for 10 to 15 percent of breast cancer cases.


Describes a non-cancerous tumor or condition.


When breast cancer has spread beyond the breast to lymph nodes or other organs in the body.


A procedure in which cells or tissue are removed from the breast to be studied under a microscope to determine if cancer is present.


Describes a cancerous tumor that is likely to spread to other parts of the body.


A number from 0 to IV, that doctors use to describe how advanced a cancer is and to determine a treatment plan. The higher the number, the more advanced the cancer is. For example, stage 0 indicates abnormal cells in the breast, while stage IV is cancer that has spread to distant organs of the body.

Oncotype DX:

A test that is used to help predict how an individual cancer is likely to behave. In particular, the likelihood it will recur or grow back after treatment.


Stands for “invasive ductal carcinoma.” A type of cancer that starts in the milk ducts and spreads to surrounding breast tissue. It makes up 80 percent of all breast cancers.


Stands for “inflammatory breast cancer.” A rare but aggressive type of breast cancer. The main symptoms are rapid onset of swelling and redness of the breast.


BRCA1 and BRCA2 are inherited gene mutations known to increase the risk of breast cancer. They account for 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers.