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A breast cancer diagnosis can bring with it a lot of confusion. If you are struggling to understand certain terms or words, it can be a good idea keep this glossary of breast cancer terms nearby.

Active treatment  the period of treatment after a breast cancer diagnosis which can include some or all of the following: surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy 
Advanced breast cancer  another term for secondary, metastatic or stage 4 breast cancer (see secondary breast cancer)
Adjuvant therapy/treatment treatment after breast cancer surgery, e.g. chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy
Alopecia  hair loss
Alternative therapies treatments that are used instead of conventional cancer treatment, e.g. coffee enemas or products that claim to cure or remove cancer completely. There is no clinical evidence to support the use of alternative therapies.
Areola  the area around the nipple
Aromatase Inhibitors  hormonal therapy drugs which are often prescribed after active treatment (ie surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiotherapy) is completed. Hormone therapies are used to treat women who are diagnosed with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. Examples of aromatase inhibitors include anastrozole (Arimidex), letrozole (Femara) and exemestane (Aromasin). There are generic brands which have the same active ingredients and work in the same way.
Axilla the armpit
Axillary dissection/clearance  removal of some or all of the lymph nodes from the armpit to see if the breast cancer has spread beyond the breast.
Benign not cancerous
Biopsy removal of cells or tissue from the body for examination to determine whether or not they are cancer
BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene faults/mutations Women with a fault, or mutation, in one of these genes have a higher than normal chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer
Breast conserving surgery 

surgery to remove breast cancer and a small area of healthy tissue around the cancer. Also known as lumpectomy.

Breast prostheses temporary or permanent moulds worn in the bra to replicate the shape of a breast
Carcinoma another word for cancer

treatment for cancer using drugs such as taxanes (Abraxane, Taxotere) and anthracyclines (doxorubicin, epirubicin)

Clinical trials

Studies involving patients to see if a new treatment is better than an existing treatment

Complementary medicines 

Complementary medicines are products that are used in addition to conventional medical treatments (e.g. chemotherapy and hormone therapies). Complementary medicines include vitamin and mineral supplements, such as fish oil capsules or vitamin D tablets, and herbal medicines.

Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies are practices that are used in addition to conventional medical treatments (e.g. chemotherapy and hormone therapies).Some examples of complementary therapies often used by women with breast cancer include massage, yoga, acupuncture and reflexology. Compare with complementary medicines.

Double mastectomy 

removal of both breasts during breast cancer surgery

Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) 

non-invasive breast cancer confined to the ducts of the breast

Early breast cancer

breast cancer that has not spread beyond the breast or lymph nodes under the arm (known as axillary lymph nodes)

Early menopause

menopause occurring in women under 45 years of age. Early menopause is often a side effect of some common treatments for breast cancer.

Hormone therapy

drugs used to treat women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. Hormone therapies work to either reduce the amount of hormone in the body, or to stop it from working. Common hormone therapies used in Australia include tamoxifen, and the aromatase inhibitors anastrozole (Arimidex), letrozole (Femara) and exemestane (Aromasin).

Intravenous infusion

the injection of fluids, such as chemotherapy drugs or other substances the body needs, into the blood stream using a needle

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) 

non-invasive breast cancer that is confined to the lobules of the breast

Lymph nodes 

glands in the armpit and other parts of the body that filter and drain lymph fluid, trapping bacteria, cancer cells and any other particles that could be harmful to the body


A condition that sometimes develops when lymph nodes have been removed during breast cancer surgery and the lymph fluid no longer drains freely, causing swelling in the arm, hand or breast


another name for breast conserving surgery (see breast conserving surgery)


removal of the whole breast during breast cancer surgery

Medical oncologist

a health professional who specialises in the treatment of women with breast cancer using chemotherapy, and in managing cancer pain and other symptoms

Metastatic breast cancer

another term for secondary, advanced, or stage 4 breast cancer (see secondary breast cancer)

Multidisciplinary care

a team of health professionals who work together to manage a woman’s treatment and care

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy 

chemotherapy treatment given before breast cancer surgery (sometimes used to reduce the size of the tumour to make it easier for the surgeon to operate)

Neoadjuvant therapy

treatment given before breast cancer surgery (e.g. chemotherapy, hormone therapy)


a type of female hormone

Partial mastectomy

another term for breast conserving surgery (see breast conserving surgery)

Pathology report

a summary of test results following a biopsy or surgery. See BCNA’s Breast Cancer Pathology fact sheet for further information.

PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme)

a scheme funded by the Australian Government to subsidise the cost of certain drugs for eligible consumers


 a type of female hormone

Prophylactic (preventative) mastectomy

surgery to remove one or both breasts to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.


treatment for cancer using X-rays that target a particular area of the body

Secondary breast cancer 

breast cancer that has spread from the breast to other, more distant parts of the body, most commonly the bones, lungs, liver and sometimes the brain. Also known as advanced, metastatic, or stage 4 breast cancer.

Sentinel node biopsy

identification and removal of the first lymph node to which the breast cancer may have spread for testing by a pathologist


fluid that collects in or around a scar after surgery


the period after active treatment for cancer (ie surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy) is completed

Targeted therapy

drugs that stop the growth of particular types of cancer cells. Targeted therapies target cancer cells directly, without harming normal cells. Also known as biological therapies. Herceptin and Tykerb are examples of a targeted therapy.