Glossary of terms

Adjuvant therapy

Treatment given to kill undetected cancer cells that may remain in the body after surgery.

Anaesthetic

A drug that causes numbness or loss of feeling in an area (local), a region (spinal or epidural) or all (general) of the body.

Basal cells

Small, round cells found in the lower part, or base, of the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin.

Benign

Not cancer  does not invade nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body.

Biological response modifiers

Substances that stimulate the body's response to infection and disease. The body naturally produces small amounts of these substances. Scientists can produce some of them in the laboratory in large amounts and use them in cancer treatment. Also called BRMs or cytokines.

Biological therapy

Treatment that can help the immune system fight disease more effectively. This form of treatment often involves the use of biological response modifiers. Also called immunotherapy or biotherapy.

Biopsy

The removal of a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Chemotherapy

Treatment with anti cancer drugs.

Clinical trials

Medical research studies conducted with volunteers. Each study is designed to answer scientific questions and to find better ways to prevent or treat cancer.

Cutaneous

Related to the skin.

Dermatologist

A doctor who specialised in the diagnosis and treatment of skin problems.

Dermis

The lower or inner layer of the two main layers of cells that make up the skin.

Dysplastic naevi

Atypical moles – moles whose appearance is different from that of common moles. Dysplastic naevi are generally larger than ordinary moles and have irregular borders. Their colour often is not uniform; they usually are flat, but parts may be raised above the skin surface.

Epidermis

The upper or outer layer of the two main layers of cells that make up the skin.

Groin

The area where the thigh meets the hip.

Hair follicles

Sacs in the dermis from which hair grows.

Immune system

The body’s front line of defence against invading bacterial infections, viruses and allergens. White blood cells (lymphocytes) are stimulated to create antibodies to defend the body against foreign invaders. Lymph nodes are an important part of the immune system and there is good evidence that the immune system acts against cancer cells.

Infusion

A chemotherapy technique that may be used when melanoma occurs on an arm or leg. The flow of blood to and from the limb is stopped for a while with a tourniquet, and anti-cancer drugs are put directly into the blood of the limb. This allows the patient to receive a high dose of drugs in the area where the melanoma occurred.

Interferon

A type of biological response modifier (a substance that can improve the body's natural response to disease). It slows the rate of growth and division of cancer cells, causing them to become sluggish and die.

Interleukin-2

A type of biological response modifier (a substance that can improve the body's natural response to disease). It stimulates the growth of certain blood cells in the immune system that can fight cancer. Also called IL-2.

Intra-ocular Melanoma

Melanoma arising in the eye (uveal melanoma).

Local therapy

Treatment that affects a tumour and the tissue close to it.

Lymph

The almost colourless fluid that travels through the lymphatic system and carries cells that help fight infection and disease.

Lymph nodes

Small, bean-shaped structures located along the network of lymphatic vessels. The lymph nodes store special cells that can trap bacteria or cancer cells travelling through the body in lymph. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the armpits, groin, neck, chest, and abdomen.

Lymphatic system

The system of structures that move lymph around the body.

Lymphoedema

A condition in which excess fluid collects in tissue and causes swelling. It may occur in the arm or leg after lymph vessels or lymph nodes in the underarm or groin are removed.

Malignant

Cancerous; can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Melanin

A skin pigment (substance that gives the skin its colour). Dark-skinned people have more melanin than light-skinned people.

Melanocytes

Cells in the skin that produce and contain the melanin.

Metastasis

The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. Cells in the metastatic (second) tumour are like those in the original (primary) tumour. The plural of metastasis is metastases (meh-Tas-ta-sees).

Naevus

The medical term for a spot on the skin, such as a mole. The plural of naevus is naevi.

Oncologist

A doctor who specialises in treating cancer.

Ophthalmologist

A doctor who specialises in eye disease and eye surgery.

Pathologist

A doctor who identifies diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope.

Pigment

A substance that gives colour to tissue. Pigments are responsible for the colour of skin, eyes, and hair.

Plastic surgeon

A surgeon who specialises in reconstructive, skin or cosmetic surgery.

Prognosis

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

Radiation therapy

Treatment with high-energy rays from x-rays or other sources to kill cancer cells, also known as radiotherapy.

Remission

Disappearance of the signs and symptoms of disease. When this happens the disease is said to be "in remission". A remission can be temporary or permanent.

Risk factor

A condition or an exposure to a substance that increases a person's chance of getting a particular disease.

Scans

Pictures of organs in the body. Scans often used in diagnosing, staging, and monitoring melanoma patients include liver scans, bone scans, and computed tomography (CT) or computed axial tomography (CAT) scans. In liver scanning and bone scanning, radioactive substances that are injected into the bloodstream collect in these organs. A scanner that detects the radiation is used to create pictures. In CT scanning, an x-ray machine linked to a computer is used to produce detailed pictures of organs inside the body. Sometimes, a similar procedure called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is done. Pictures of areas inside the body are created with a computer linked to a strong magnet. A new type of scan is called a PET-CT scan, which is a special cancer imaging test.

Sebum

An oily substance produced by certain glands in the skin.

Skin graft

Skin that is moved from one part of the body to another.

Squamous cells

Flat cells that look like fish scales under the microscope; they make up most of the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin.

Sun Protection Factor

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a number on a scale (from 2 upwards) for rating sun screens. Sun screens with an SPF of 15 or higher provide the best protection from the sun's harmful rays.

Sun screen

A substance that blocks the effect of the sun's harmful rays. Using lotions that contain sun screens can reduce the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.

Surgical Oncologist

A surgeon trained in the principles of cancer biology, cancer surgery and treatments, and often with a special interest in melanoma or other specific cancers.

Systemic treatment

Treatment using substances that travel through the bloodstream, reaching and affecting cancer cells all over the body.

Tumour

An abnormal mass of tissue.

Ultraviolet radiation

Invisible rays that are part of the energy that comes from the sun. UV radiation can burn the skin and can cause melanoma and other types of skin cancer. UV radiation that reaches the earth's surface is made up of two types of rays, called UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are more likely than UVA rays to cause sunburn, but UVA rays pass further into the skin. Scientists have long thought that UVB radiation can cause melanoma and other types of skin cancer. They now think that UVA radiation also may add to skin damage that can lead to cancer. For this reason, skin specialists recommend that people use sun screens that block both kinds of UV radiation.

Uveal Melanoma

Intra–ocular melanoma.

Vaccine

Substances made from melanoma cells or parts of cells, which can be used to create or boost an immune response against melanoma.