Glossary of Terms

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Abdominal ultrasound (ab-DAH-mih-nul UL-truh-sownd)

A procedure used to examine the organs in the abdomen. An ultrasound transducer (probe) is pressed firmly against the skin of the abdomen. High-energy sound waves from the transducer bounce off tissues and create echoes. The echoes are sent to a computer, which makes a picture called a sonogram. Also called transabdominal ultrasound.

Ablation (a-BLAY-shun)

The removal or destruction of a body part or tissue or its function.

Acupuncture (AK-yoo-PUNK-cher)

A type of complementary and alternative medicine. Acupuncture is the technique of inserting thin needles through the skin at specific points on the body to help control pain and other symptoms.

Alternative therapies (all-TER-nuh-tiv THAYR-uh-pee)

Treatments that are used instead of standard treatments. Less research has been done for most types of alternative medicine, compared to standard medicine.

Anemia (uh-NEE-mee-uh)

A blood condition where your red blood cell count is too low.

Angiography (an-jee-AH-gruh-fee)

A procedure to x-ray blood vessels. The blood vessels can be seen because of an injection of a dye that shows up in the x-ray.


An abnormal loss of the appetite for food

Anxiety (ang-ZY-eh-tee)

Feelings of fear, dread, and uneasiness that may occur as a reaction to stress.

Ascites (uh-SY-teez)

Abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen that may cause swelling.


A fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. It is released into your small intestine, where it helps digest fat.

Biliary bypass (BIL-ee-air-ee Bahy-pas)

Biliary bypass surgery reroutes the flow of bile around a tumor. It may relieve jaundice if the tumor is blocking the common bile duct. Different types of biliary bypass operations may be done, based on the location of the blockage.

Biopsy (BY-op-see)

The removal of cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist.

Blood cell counts

A measure of the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in your blood.

Blood test (blud test)

A test done on a sample of blood to measure the amount of certain substances in the blood or to count different types of blood cells. Blood tests may be done to look for signs of disease or agents that cause disease, to check for antibodies or tumor markers, or to see how well treatments are working.

Cancer (KAN-ser)

A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues.

Case Manager

Case manager: A healthcare professional, often a nurse with experience in cancer, who helps coordinate the care of a person with cancer before, during, and after treatment. At a medical center, a case manager may provide a wide range of services. Insurance companies also employ case managers.

Catheter (KA-theh-ter)

A flexible tube used to deliver fluids into or withdraw fluids from your body.

Celiac plexus block (See-lee-ak Plek-suh s Blok)

A special type of nerve block performed to relieve abdominal pain. During a nerve block, nerves are injected with either an anesthetic to stop pain for a short time or a medication that destroys the nerves and can relieve pain for a longer time.

Central Venous Catheter (CVC) (SEN-trul VEE-nus KA-theh-ter)

A thin, flexible tube that is inserted into a vein in your upper arm, thigh, or neck or below the collarbone. It is used to give you intravenous fluids, blood transfusions, chemotherapy and other drugs, and for taking blood samples. It avoids the need for repeated needle sticks.

Chemotherapy (KEE-moh-THAYR-uh-pee)

Treatment with medicines that kill cancer cells.

Clinical trials (KLIH-nih-kul TRY-ul)

A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people.. Also called clinical study.

Coinsurance (koh-in-shoo r-uh ns)

The percentage of health care costs an insured patient pays after meeting a health care plan's yearly deductible.

Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM)

Forms of treatment that are used in addition to (complementary) or instead of (alternative) standard treatments. These practices generally are not considered standard medical approaches

Complementary therapies

Forms of treatment that are used in addition to (complementary) standard treatments. These practices generally are not considered standard medical approaches.

Computed tomography scan (kum-PYOO-ted toh-MAH-gruh-fee skan)

A procedure that uses a computer linked to an x-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are taken from different angles and are used to create 3-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the tissues and organs show up more clearly. A computed tomography scan may be used to help diagnose disease, plan treatment, or find out how well treatment is working. Also called CAT scan, computerized axial tomography scan, computerized tomography, and CT scan.

Copay (koh-pey)

A set fee, in dollars, that an insurance provider requires a patient to pay each time care is received.

Curative treatment (kur-uh-tiv)

Treatment aimed at producing a cure.

Death benefit

The amount of money to be paid under the terms of an insurance policy to the designated beneficiary after the death of the insured person.

Deductible (dih-duhk-tuh-buh l)

The amount of money to be paid under the terms of an insurance policy to the designated beneficiary after the death of the insured person.

Depression (dee-PREH-shun)

A mental condition marked by ongoing feelings of sadness, despair, loss of energy, and difficulty dealing with normal daily life.

Diabetes (dy-uh-BEE-teez)

Any of several diseases in which the kidneys make a large amount of urine. Diabetes usually refers to diabetes mellitus in which there is also a high level of glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood because the body does not make enough insulin or use it the way it should.

Distal pancreatectomy (DIS-tul PAN-kree-uh-TEK-toh-mee)

Removal of the body and tail of the pancreas.

Distress (dih-stres)

Emotional, social, spiritual, or physical pain or suffering that may cause a person to feel sad, afraid, depressed, anxious, or lonely.

Duct (dukt)

A tube or vessel of the body through which fluids pass.

Embolization (EM-buh-li-ZAY-shun)

A type of treatment that reduces the blood supply to a tumor by injecting materials to plug up the artery that supplies it.

Endocrine cells (EN-doh-krin selz)

Cells that make and release hormones that travel in the bloodstream and control the actions of other cells or organs.

Endocrine tumor (EN-doh-krin TOO mer)

An abnormal mass of tissue that starts in endocrine tissue, the tissue in the body that secretes hormones.

Endoscope (EN-doh-SKOPE)

A thin, tube-like instrument used to look at tissues inside your body.

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (en-doh-SKAH-pik REH-troh-grayd koh-LAN-jee-oh-PAN-kree-uh-TAH-gruh-fee)

A procedure that uses an endoscope to examine and x-ray the pancreatic duct, hepatic duct, common bile duct, duodenal papilla, and gallbladder. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. The endoscope is passed through the mouth and down into the first part of the small intestine (duodenum). A smaller tube (catheter) is then inserted through the endoscope into the bile and pancreatic ducts. A dye is injected through the catheter into the ducts, and an x-ray is taken. Also called ERCP.

Endoscopic ultrasound (EN-doh-SKAH-pik UL-truh-sownd)

A procedure in which an endoscope is inserted into the body. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument that has a light and a lens for viewing. A probe at the end of the endoscope is used to bounce high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off internal organs to make a picture (sonogram). Also called endosonography and EUS.

Exocrine cells (EK-soh-krin selz)

A pancreatic cell that produces enzymes that are secreted into your small intestine. These enzymes help digest food as it passes through your gastrointestinal tract.

Exocrine tumor (EK-soh-krin TOO mer)

An abnormal mass of tissue that starts in the exocrine cells of the pancreas.

External beam radiation therapy (...RAY-dee-AY-shun THAYR-uh-pee)

A type of radiation therapy that uses a machine to aim high-energy rays at the cancer from outside of the body.

Fatigue (fuh-TEEG)

A condition marked by extreme tiredness and inability to function due to lack of energy. Fatigue may be acute or chronic.

Gastric Bypass (Gas-trik Bahy-pas)

A type of bypass surgery that can be performed if a tumor blocks the duodenum. It allows food to flow from the stomach past the blockage. (Also known as a gastrojejunostomy.)

Hospice (HOS-pis)

A program that provides special care for people who are near the end of life and for their families, either at home, in freestanding facilities, or within hospitals.

Informed consent (in-FORMD kun-SENT)

A process in which patients are given important information, including possible risks and benefits, about a medical procedure or treatment, a clinical trial, or genetic testing. This is to help them decide if they want to be treated, tested, or take part in the trial. Patients are also given any new information that might affect their decision to continue. Also called consent process.

Intravenous (IV) infusion (IN-truh-VEE-nus in-FYOO-zhun)

A method of putting fluids, including medicines, into the bloodstream via a vein.


A hormone that helps the body use glucose (sugar) efficiently.

Jaundice (JAWN-dis)

A condition in which the skin and the whites of the eyes become yellow, urine darkens, and the color of stool becomes lighter than normal. Jaundice occurs when the liver is not working properly or when a bile duct is blocked.

Life settlement

The sale by the owner of a life insurance policy to a third party for an amount greater than its cash surrender value and less than the death benefit. The seller receives a cash payment; the buyer assumes all future premiums payments and receives the death benefit upon the passing of the insured.

Liver function test (LIH-ver FUNK-shun ...)

A blood test to measure the blood levels of certain substances released by the liver. A high or low level of certain substances can be a sign of liver disease.

Living benefits

The acceleration of a life insurance policy’s death benefit. You can get these benefits in different ways, such as viaticals or life settlements (sale of the life insurance policy) and loans against the face value of the life insurance policy (from the original insurance company or from a third party).

Magnetic resonance imaging (mag-NEH-tik REH-zuh-nunts IH-muh-jing)

A procedure in which radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer are used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue. Magnetic resonance imaging makes better images of organs and soft tissue than other scanning techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or x-ray. Magnetic resonance imaging is especially useful for imaging the brain, the spine, the soft tissue of joints, and the inside of bones. Also called MRI, NMRI, and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging.

Metastatic (meh-tuh-STA-tik)

Having to do with metastasis, which is the spread of cancer from the primary site (place where it started) to other places in the body.

Nausea (NAW-zee-uh)

A feeling of sickness or discomfort in the stomach that may come with an urge to vomit.

Nerve block (nerv blok)

A procedure in which medicine is injected directly into or around a nerve or into your spine to block pain.

Neuropathy (noor-AH-puh-thee)

Numbness, tingling, pain or weakness in the hands or feet.

Neutropenia (noo-troh-PEE-nee-uh)

A condition in which there is a lower-than-normal number of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell).

Neutrophils (NOO-troh-fils)

A type of white blood cell that your body needs to fight infections. Neutrophils help fight infection by ingesting microorganisms and releasing enzymes that kill the microorganisms.

Nutrition (noo-TRIH-shun)

The taking in and use of food and other nourishing material by your body.

Palliative care (PA-lee-uh-tiv kayr)

Care given to improve the quality of life of patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease. Also called comfort care, supportive care, and symptom management.

Pancreas (PAN-kree-us)

A glandular organ located in your abdomen. It makes pancreatic juices, which contain enzymes that aid in digestion. It also produces several hormones, including insulin.

Pancreatic cancer (PAN-kree-A-tik KAN-ser)

A disease in which malignant (cancer) cells are found in the tissues of the pancreas.

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (pan-kree-at-ik noo r-oh-en-duh-krin TOO-mer)

Tumors that develop from the abnormal growth of endocrine (hormone-producing) cells in the pancreas.

Pancreatoduodenectomy (PAN-kree-uh-toh-DOO-ah-deh-NEK-toh-mee)

A type of surgery in which the head of the pancreas, the duodenum, a portion of the stomach, and other nearby tissues are removed. Also called Whipple procedure.

Percutaneous (per-kyoo-TAY-nee-us)

Passing through the skin, as an injection or a topical medicine.

Placebo (pluh-SEE-boh)

An inactive substance or treatment that looks the same as, and is given the same way as, an active drug or treatment being tested. The effects of the active drug or treatment are compared to the effects of the placebo.

Prognosis (prog-NO-sis)

The likely outcome or course of a disease; the chance of recovery or recurrence.

Qi Gong (chee-goo ng)

A type of complementary and alternative medicine. A Chinese system of breathing exercises, body postures and movements, and mental concentration, intended to maintain good health and control the flow of vital energy.

Radiation Therapy (RAY-dee-AY-shun THAYR-uh-pee)

Therapy that uses high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.

Resection (ree-SEK-shun)

Surgery to remove tissue or part or all of an organ.

Recurrence (ree-KER-ents)

Cancer that comes back after a period of time during which it could not be detected.

Risk factors (... FAK-ters)

Something that increases the chance of developing a disease.

Second opinion

When a doctor other than your regular doctor gives his or her opinion about a diagnosis and how to treat a disease. After a cancer diagnosis, many people seek the knowledge and advice of more than one doctor to confirm a diagnosis and evaluate treatment options.

Side effect (side eh-FEKT)

A problem that occurs when cancer treatment affects your healthy tissues or organs. Common side effects of cancer treatment include: fatigue, pain, nausea, vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, and mouth sores.

Somatostatin receptor scintigraphy (soh-MA-toh-STA-tin reh-SEP-ter sin-TIH-gruh-fee)

A type of radionuclide scan used to find carcinoid and other types of tumors. Radioactive octreotide, a drug similar to somatostatin, is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream. The radioactive octreotide attaches to tumor cells that have receptors for somatostatin. A radiation-measuring device detects the radioactive octreotide, and makes pictures showing where the tumor cells are in the body. Also called octreotide scan and SRS.


A device placed in a body structure (such as a blood vessel or the gastrointestinal tract) to keep the structure open.

Surgical biopsy (SER-jih-kul BY-op-see)

The removal of tissue by a surgeon for examination by a pathologist. The pathologist may study the tissue under a microscope.

Systemic therapy (sis-TEH-mik THAYR-uh-pee)

Medicines that treat cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy is a systemic therapy.

Tai Chi (tahy jee)

A type of complementary and alternative medicine. A form of traditional Chinese mind/body exercise and meditation that uses slow sets of body movements and controlled breathing. Tai chi is done to improve balance, flexibility, muscle strength, and overall health.

Total pancreatectomy (TOH-tul PAN-kree-uh-TEK-toh-mee)

Surgery to remove the entire pancreas. Part of the stomach, part of the small intestine, the common bile duct, gallbladder, spleen, and nearby lymph nodes are also removed.

Tumor (TOO-mer)

An abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should.

Viatical (vahy-at-i-kuh l)

The sale of a life insurance policy for cash when the insured person is not expected to live very long.

Whipple Procedure (HWIH-pul)

A type of surgery in which the head of the pancreas, the duodenum, a portion of the stomach, and other nearby tissues are removed. Also called pancreatoduodenectomy.