Melanoma: Glossary

Here are definitions of medical terms related to melanoma.

Adjuvant therapy: Treatment given in addition to surgery for melanoma; it may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy

Basal cell carcinoma: Skin cancer that involves cells in the lower part, or base, of the epidermis (the outer layer of skin)

Benign: A growth that is not cancerous

Biological response modifiers (BRMs): Natural substances like interferon that are sometimes used to treat advanced melanomas

Breslow measurement: The actual thickness of a melanoma measured with a tiny device under a microscope that is used to stage melanoma

Biopsy: Removal and examination of cells or tissue under a microscope to check for cancer

Chemotherapy: Treatment with anti-cancer drugs

Clarke level: The depth into the skin to which a melanoma has grown; used to stage melanoma

Clinical trial: A research study done on human volunteers to decide if a new treatment is safe and effective

Cutaneous melanoma: Melanoma that starts in the skin, rather than the eye or an internal organ

Dermatologist: A medical doctor who specializes in diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer and other skin diseases

Dermatopathologist: A pathologist with special training and expertise in diagnosing skin cancer

Dermis: The middle layer of skin, located under the epidermis

DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid, the substance within the genes that carries the genetic instructions

Dysplastic nevus: A mole with an unusual appearance; different from common moles

Epidermis: The outermost layer of skin, which is in contact with the environment, located above the dermis

Genes: The units of heredity that are passed from parent to offspring; genes determine particular traits in the individual, such as hair color or a propensity for cancer

Immunotherapy: Use of natural proteins produced in the body to fight melanoma

Lymph: Straw-colored fluid containing disease-fighting substances that flows through special channels in the body to the lymph nodes

Lymphatic system: The network of vessels and nodes returning lymph from body tissues to the bloodstream; the lymphatic systems is one of the body’s cleansing mechanisms and defends against infections

Lymphedema: Swelling of a limb that can occur when lymph nodes are removed or treated with radiation therapy

Lymph nodes: Small knots of tissue, about the size of a bean, that help fight disease; they are found in the underarms, chest, groin and other areas of the body, and contain special cells that fight infections and trap cancer cells

Lymph node mapping: Injecting a dye or radioactive substance into the body near the tumor site to identify the lymph node basin draining the tumor site and removing the first node in the basin, also called the sentinel node

Malignant: A cancerous growth that may destroy nearby normal tissue and spread to other parts of the body

Medical oncologist: A physician who specializes in the treatment of cancer

Melanocytes: Skin cells that produce a pigment called melanin; these cells can become cancerous and change into malignant melanoma

Melanoma: Cancer that occurs in melanocytes and is the most serious kind of skin cancer

Metastasize: The spread of cancer cells from the original tumor to distant parts of the body

Mole: A small, usually dark, skin growth that develops from pigment-producing cells called melanocytes

Nevus: The commonly used medical term for a mole (the plural is nevi); birthmarks are also called nevus or nevi

Ocular melanoma: Melanoma that begins inside the eye

Pathologist: A doctor who helps diagnose disease by examining cells and tissues under a microscope

Primary cancer: Cancer in the part of the body where it began

Prognosis: The patient’s outlook for recovering from a disease

Radiation therapy: Treatment that uses x-rays and other sources of radiation to kill cancer cells

Recur: When cancer returns after treatment to the same site or a new site in the body

Sentinel node biopsy: A procedure whereby the first node in the draining lymphatic basin is removed and examined by a pathologist for cancer cells

Skin graft: A patch of skin removed from one part of the body and used to cover another, such as an area from which a large melanoma has been removed

Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that occurs in squamous cells, the main cells of the epidermis (outer layer of the skin)

Staging: Determining the stage or extent to which a cancer has advanced

Sunscreen: A lotion or oil that helps protects the skin from harmful ultraviolet radiation, premature aging, and skin cancer

TNM system: A way of deciding the stage of a melanoma based on the tumor (T) size, whether it has spread to the lymph nodes (N), and metastasized (M) (spread to internal organs)

Topical chemotherapy: Treatment with anticancer drugs in a cream or solution applied to the skin over a period of time

Tumor: An abnormal growth of tissue that can be either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous)

Ultraviolet rays: Invisible rays in sunlight that cause suntan, sunburn, premature skin aging, and most cases of skin cancer

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