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Glossary Of Common Lung Cancer Terms


Cancer that begins in the tissues of a gland. These tissues create fluids in the body, such as mucus or breast milk.

Adjuvant therapy

Additional cancer treatment given after the main treatment (usually surgery or high-dose radiation therapy) to lower the risk that the cancer will come back. Adjuvant therapy may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, or biological therapy.


Genes, proteins, or hormones in the blood or in the tumor that can be tested to learn important details about a cancer and help with treatment planning.


A procedure done to remove a sample of tumor tissue to see if cancer cells are present.

Consolidation therapy

Once the initial treatment is completed, patients may need additional therapy called consolidation therapy. This is the treatment given to combat any lingering cancer cells left in the body. Treatment types include chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapy.

First-line therapy (also called primary therapy, primary treatment, or induction therapy)

The first treatment given for a disease. It is often part of a standard set of treatments, such as surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation. When used by itself, first-line therapy is the one accepted as the best treatment. If the first-line treatment does not work or has stopped working, then second-line and further lines of therapy may be used. For some patients, a second-line therapy is considered if side effects are not manageable, or a new treatment is available.

Fusion protein

An abnormality in the DNA, where the part of one gene moves to another gene, creating what is known as an abnormal “fusion protein.” ALK is an example of a fusion protein.


Genes can be found within chromosomes in the body’s cells. Genes have information on inherited traits such as hair or eye color, as well as possible mutations that could increase risk for disease.


When a tumor cannot be treated by surgery, it is viewed as inoperable.

Large cell carcinoma

A non-small cell lung cancer in which the cells are larger than cells found in other tumors such as adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma.

Localized cancer

The cancer has not obviously spread from the original tissue or organ to other areas of the body in amounts that are too small to detect.

Lymph nodes

Lymph nodes or glands are part of the lymphatic system. They are small, bean-shaped structures found throughout the body, including inside the chest and abdomen. They filter substances in the lymph.

Lymphatic system

The lymphatic system is the part of the immune system that moves fluid (called lymph) and cells to and from the lymph nodes throughout the body. It creates the tissues and organs that create, house, and move white blood cells that fight infections and diseases. It is made up of a network of thin tubes that branch into all the tissues in the body.

Maintenance therapy

Maintenance therapy may be given to prevent the cancer from coming back. This type of therapy may be necessary for a long treatment period. Different methods of treatment such as vaccines and antibodies may be used.


This area contains the heart and is found behind the breastbone and between the lungs. The nodes located in this area are called mediastinal lymph nodes.


To move from one part of the body to another. This occurs when cancer cells spread from where they began to other parts of the body through the lymph system or bloodstream. Once these cells have spread, the cancer has metastasized, and the cancer is called metastatic.

Minimally invasive surgery

Surgery that is done using small incisions (cuts) and few stitches. During minimally invasive surgery, one or more small incisions may be made in the body. A laparoscope (thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing) is inserted through one opening to guide the surgery. Tiny surgical instruments are inserted through other openings to do the surgery. Minimally invasive surgery may cause less pain, scarring, and damage to healthy tissue, and the patient may have a faster recovery than with traditional surgery.

Monoclonal antibodies

A protein, developed in a lab, that can bind to certain targets in the body, such as antigens (substance recognized by the immune system).


A type of change to the DNA in a gene contained in a cell is known as a mutation, or variant. Although cancer can start from a mutated cell, not all mutations lead to cancer.

Neoadjuvant therapy

Treatment used to shrink a tumor before the main treatment, which is usually surgery, is given. Examples of neoadjuvant therapy include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. It is a type of induction therapy/first-line treatment.

Open surgery

This traditional type of surgery involves the cutting of skin and tissues so that the surgeon can “open up” the body part and have a full view of the structures or organs involved. It can likely cause pain, scarring, and usually requires a longer recovery time than minimally invasive surgery.


Patient outcomes are the results from care and treatments that patients have received. These outcomes can be clinical, emotional, and practical.


A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and classifying diseases by lab tests and by looking at tissues and cells with a microscope. The pathologist determines whether a tumor is cancer, and, if it is cancer, the exact cell type (where it started) and grade (how fast it likely will grow).

Platinum-containing agent

This term refers to certain chemotherapy drugs that are effective at treating slow-growing cancers. The drugs (either cisplatin or carboplatin) are made up of platinum and other elements that work by damaging the DNA of cancer cells so they can no longer multiply.

Pleural effusion

This occurs when fluid abnormally collects between the thin layers of tissue (called pleura) lining the lung and the wall of the chest cavity.

Primary site

Primary cancers are typically named for the organ or area in which the cancer first appears. Treatment decisions will continue to be based on the primary cancer type even when cancer spreads to other organs.

Precision (precision medicine)

A medical approach that uses information about a person’s genes to prevent, diagnose, or treat disease.


Molecules created by genes with specific instructions to help the body function properly.


High-energy subatomic particle that is used for radiation treatment.


A genetic abnormality that causes DNA in a cell to relocate (move from its normal position) and not work properly.


Cancer can be resistant at the beginning of treatment, or it may become resistant during treatment. When this happens, the patient and healthcare provider can talk about a new treatment plan.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Cancer that begins in the squamous cells, which are commonly found in the skin or the lining of the organs.


The method used to locate and determine how much cancer is in a person’s body. It is usually defined by the size and location of the tumor, and whether it has spread to any lymph nodes or other places in the body.


A computer and 3-dimensional (3D) tool that can scan on different levels in the body to find a tumor and help surgeons remove the correct tissue.


When a type of cancer can be divided into smaller groups, those groups are known as subtypes. Knowing the subtype of one’s cancer can help with treatment planning.


An abnormal growth or mass of tissue. Some tumors are very slow growing, and are not considered cancerous. Most tumors, however, are rapidly growing and are considered cancerous.


When a tumor cannot be fully removed with surgery, it is viewed as unresectable.