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Glossary of Lung Cancer Terms

ChemotherapyChemotherapy refers to drugs that are used to kill microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi) and cancer cells. Most commonly the term is used to refer to “cancer-fighting” drugs. Chemotherapy, as it refers to cancer treatment, is a generic term and includes many different drugs with a wide variety and severity of side effects. Generalizations regarding specific side effects and toxicities are difficult to make. Cancer chemotherapy kills or arrests the growth of cancer cells by targeting specific parts of the cell growth cycle. However, normal healthy cells share some of these pathways and thus are also injured or killed by chemotherapy. This is what causes most side effects from chemotherapy. Chemotherapy usually targets rapidly dividing cells. Some normal cells — including blood cells, hair, and cells lining the gastrointestinal tract — are also rapidly dividing and thus these are the normal cells most likely to be damaged. Newer cancer therapies, some of which have already been approved by the FDA, are more specifically targeted at growth pathways that are only found in cancer cells. Thus, these drugs may be more effective while also being less toxic.

  • Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy given alone or with radiation therapy before surgical resection of a cancer.
  • Adjuvant Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy given alone or with radiation after surgical resection.

Lobectomy – The right lung has three lobes, and the left lung has two lobes. A lobectomy removes an entire lobe of lung containing the cancer (tumor).

  • Bilobectomy – A lobectomy removing two of the five lobes

Local Control – Eradication of cancer from a specific area (by surgical resection or radiation).

Local Therapy – Treatment done to treat only specific areas of the body. These treatments include surgical resection (removal) of a cancer and radiation therapy.

Mediastinoscopy – A procedure that can help show whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the chest. Using a lighted viewing instrument, called a scope, the doctor examines the center of the chest (mediastinum) and nearby lymph nodes. In mediastinoscopy, the scope is inserted through a small incision in the neck; in mediastinotomy, the incision is made in the chest. In either procedure, the scope is also used to remove a tissue sample.

Pneumonectomy – Removal of the entire right or left lung. This is typically done for larger cancers located in the center (hilum) of the lung.

Radiation Therapy – Radiotherapy – A treatment method that uses high-energy, ionizing radiation (e.g., gamma rays) to kill cancer cells. Ionizing radiation is produced by a number of radioactive substances, such as cobalt (60Co), radium (228Ra), iodine (131I), radon (221Rn), cesium (137Cs), phosphorus (32P), gold (198Au), iridium (192Ir), and yttrium (90Y). Radiotherapy may be applied to shrink a tumor that is later removed by surgery, to relieve symptoms, or to destroy malignant cells in a tumor that cannot be removed surgically.

Staging of Non-Small Cell and Small Cell Lung Cancer – The stage of a cancer is based on the size of the cancer and how far it has spread. In early stages, lung cancer may be confined to one small area of the lung. In later stages, it may spread within the lungs or through the lymph nodes to other parts of the body.

  • Non-small cell lung cancer – is divided into four stages, I-IV. Most patients with stage I and II non-small cell tumors and some patients with stage III tumors can undergo surgery with the goal of cure. Stage IV denotes cancer that has spread to other sites in the body (most often bone, brain, or liver) and is, in most cases, not curable.
  • Small cell lung cancer – is divided into “limited stage” (generally cancer confined to the chest) and “extensive stage” (cancer that has spread outside the chest).

Systemic Therapy – Treatment that treats the whole body system. These treatments include chemotherapy and cancer vaccines.

Thoracoscopy – Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS), also called thoracoscopy, may be done as an independent procedure, or before a thoracotomy. This procedure involves inserting a long, thin, fiber-optic scope with a camera attached and instruments into the chest through small incisions made between the ribs. A VATS procedure may be used to confirm the diagnosis of lung cancer or other chest diseases. It also can be used to biopsy lymph nodes in the center part of the chest (mediastinum). Recent advances have allowed surgeons to apply the VATS approach to lobectomy for local control in small stage I lung cancers. Many smaller chest procedures may be performed using VATS, rather than a standard thoracotomy.

Thoracotomy – A standard chest incision, typically to enter the chest along the side under the arm going between the ribs. Surgery using this approach avoids areas in the chest containing the heart and the spinal cord.

The information in this article is based on “LUNG CANCER: Battling the Number 1 Cancer Killer,” presented on October 7, 2003 at the Mini Medical College, and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2004.

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