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Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Terms

abdomen (AB-do-men): The part of the body that contains the pancreas, stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, and other organs.

Barium enema: A series of x-rays of the lower intestine. The x-ray pictures are taken after the person is given an enema with a white, chalky solution that contains barium. The barium outlines the intestines on the x-rays.

benign (beh-NINE): Not cancerous; does not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.

biopsy (BY-ahp-see): The removal of cells or tissues for examination under a microscope. When only a sample of tissue is removed, the procedure is called an incisional biopsy or core biopsy. When the whole tumor is removed, the procedure is called an excisional biopsy. When a sample of tissue or fluid is removed with a needle, the procedure is called a needle biopsy or fine-needle aspiration.

cancer: A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control. Cancer cells can invade nearby tissues and can spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.


chemotherapy (kee-mo-THER-a-pee): Treatment with anticancer drugs.

colonoscope (ko-LAHN-o-skope): A thin, flexible, lighted tube used to examine the inside of the colon.

colonoscopy (ko-lun-AHS-ko-pee): An examination of the inside of the colon using a thin, lighted tube (called a colonoscope) inserted into the rectum. If abnormal areas are seen, polyps and other abnormal tissue can very often be removed during this procedure.

colorectal (ko-lo-REK-tul): Related to the colon and rectum.

colorectal surgeon: A physician who has had additional training beyond residency in becoming board certified to specialize in treating diseases of the large intestine, rectum and anus by means of operation or manipulation.

Crohn's Disease (KRON's): An inflammatory condition that may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus. However, it mainly involves the lower part of the small intestine called the ileum. In perhaps one-third of the cases, it may also affect the colon.


Crohn's disease is also referred to as ileitis or regional enteritis. It is relatively rare, occurring in about 1 to 5 per 10,000 people (although the frequency appears to be increasing). While the cause is unknown, it is believed that hereditary or environmental influences play a role.

Symptoms of Crohn's Disease range from normal bowel habits to urgency, cramping, and watery or bloody diarrhea, may be accompanied by fever and general fatigue.

external radiation (ray-dee-AY-shun): Radiation therapy that uses a machine to aim high-energy rays at the cancer. Also called external-beam radiation.

familial polyposis (pah-li-PO-sis): An inherited condition in which numerous polyps (tissue masses) develop on the inside walls of the colon and rectum. It increases the risk for colon cancer.

fecal occult blood test (FEE-kul o-KULT): A test to check for invisible blood in stool. Fecal refers to stool. Occult means hidden.

gastroenterologist (GAS-tro-en-ter-AHL-o-jist): A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the digestive system.

lymph nodes: Small glands located throughout the body along the channels of the lymphatic system. The lymph nodes store special cells that fight infection and other diseases. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the underarms, groin, neck, chest, and abdomen. Also called lymph glands.

lymphatic (lim-FAT-ik) system: This system includes the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, and lymph nodes and a network of thin tubes that carry lymph and white blood cells. These tubes branch, like blood vessels, into all the tissues of the body.

malignant (ma-LIG-nant): Cancerous; a growth with a tendency to invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

medical oncologist (on-KOL-o-jist): A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer using chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and biological therapy. A medical oncologist often serves as the person's main caretaker and coordinates treatment provided by other specialists.

metastasis (meh-TAS-ta-sis): The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. Cells in the metastatic (secondary) tumor are the same type as those in the original (primary) tumor.

pedunculus (PE-dung-KU-lus): A thin stalk or stem.

polyp (POL-ip): Any mass of abnormal tissue that bulges or projects outward or upward from a surface of the colon or rectum by growing from a broad base (sessile) or slender stalk (pedunculus). Colon and rectal cancer is prevented by the early detection and removal of polyps.

radiation oncologist (ray-dee-AY-shun on-KOL-o-jist): A doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer.

radiation therapy (ray-dee-AY-shun): Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy radiation from x-rays, neutrons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy) or from materials (radioisotopes) that produce radiation that are placed in or near the tumor or in the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation therapy, implant radiation, or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy involves giving a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that circulates throughout the body.

recurrent cancer: Cancer that has returned, at the same site as the original (primary) tumor or in another location.

risk factors: Relevent agents or causes, either inherited or due to lifestyle choices, that increase the chance of developing a disease. Risk factors for developing colon and rectal cancer are separated by average risk and increased risk.


  • Average risk: All men and woman aged 50 and older
  • Increased risk: A personal history or family history of one or more of the following:
    • colorectal cancer
    • benign colorectal polyps
    • ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease
    • ovarian, uterine or breast cancer

screening: Checking for disease when there are no symptoms.

sessile (SES-il): Having a broad base of attachment; not pedunculated.

side effects: Problems that occur when treatment affects healthy cells. Common side effects of cancer treatment are fatigue, nausea, vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, and mouth sores.

sigmoidoscope (sig-MOY-da-skope): A thin, flexible, lighted tube used to view the inside of the colon.

sigmoidoscopy (sig-moid-OSS-ko-pee): Inspection of the lower colon using a thin, flexible, lighted tube called a sigmoidoscope. Samples of tissue or cells may by collected for examination under a microscope.

surveillance (sur-VAIL-lance): Total colonic evaluation in individuals who are at increased risk for developing colorectal cancer and have no symptoms (see risk factors).

stage: The extent of a cancer within the body, including whether the disease has spread from the original site to other parts of the body. Staging refers to the determination of the extent of cancer.

staging: Doing exams and tests to learn the extent of the cancer within the body, especially whether the disease has spread from the original site to other parts of the body.

tumor (TOO-mer): An abnormal mass of tissue that results from excessive cell division. Tumors perform no useful body function. They may be either benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

ulcerative colitis: A disease that causes long-term inflammation of the lining of the colon; it may increase the risk for colon cancer.



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