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Definitions of terms used for asbestos-related diseases and their treatment

The following definitions are primarily adapted from the thousands of terms set forth on the website of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in their exhaustive Dictionary of Cancer Terms. NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their website is a terrific source of information about all forms of cancer, including malignant mesothelioma, and a great resource to help you find clinical trials.

acupuncture (AK-yoo-PUNK-chur)

The ancient Chinese technique of inserting thin needles through the skin at specific points on the body to control pain and other symptoms. It is a type of complementary and alternative medicine. Acupuncturists use stainless steel needles that are slightly thicker than a human hair. Sometimes gentle electric currents are sent through some of the needles to intensify the treatment.

adjuvant therapy (AD-joo-vunt THAYR-uh-pee)

Treatment given after the primary treatment to increase the chances of a cure. Adjuvant therapy may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, a combination of the two, or other therapies.

alternative medicine

Practices used instead of standard treatments. Although these practices generally are not recognized by the medical community as standard or conventional medical approaches, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health, is beginning to study many of these practices. Alternative medicine includes dietary supplements, megadose vitamins, herbal preparations, special teas, acupuncture, massage therapy, magnet therapy, spiritual healing, and meditation.


Also called a tumor marker. A biomarker is a term for a substance sometimes found in the blood, other body fluids, or tissues. A high level of biomarker may mean that a certain type of cancer is in the body. Osteopontin, a protein in the serum, or liquid part of the blood, is one substance being investigated as a biomarker for asbestos.

biopsy (BY-op-see)

The removal of cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist. The pathologist may study the tissue under a microscope or perform other tests on the cells or tissue. When only a sample of tissue is removed, the procedure is called an incisional biopsy. When an entire lump or suspicious area is removed, the procedure is called an excisional biopsy. When a sample of tissue or fluid is removed with a needle, the procedure is called a needle biopsy, core biopsy, or fine-needle aspiration.

brachytherapy (BRA-kee-THAYR-uh-pee)

A procedure in which radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters is placed directly into or close to a tumor. This procedure is sometimes called internal radiation, implant radiation or interstitial radiation therapy.

CAT or CT scan (computerized axial tomography scan) (AX-ee-al tuh-MAH-gruh-fee)

A series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are created by a computer linked to an x-ray machine.

chemotherapy (kee-moh-THAYR-uh-pee)

Treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells.

clinical trials/studies

A research study that tests how effectively new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of a disease. Some clinical trials use traditional cancer treatments but in different ways to try to find more effective remedies. Other clinical trials test new drugs or experimental therapies.

complementary medicine

Practices often used to enhance or complement standard treatments. Although these practices generally are not recognized by the medical community as standard or conventional medical approaches, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health, is beginning to study many of these practices. The NCCAM aims to find ways to use proven complementary and alternative practices in combination with conventional medical practices. Complementary medicine includes dietary supplements, megadose vitamins, herbal preparations, special teas, acupuncture, massage therapy, magnet therapy, spiritual healing, and meditation.

diaphragm (dye-uh-fram)

The thin muscle below the lungs and heart that separates the chest from the abdomen.

expanded access trial

This type of trial enables some patients who do not meet the eligibility criteria for a clinical trial to receive an investigational therapy to treat a serious or life-threatening illness. Expanded access allows a patient to receive promising but not yet fully studied or approved cancer therapies when no other treatment option exists. Also called a compassionate use trial.

extrapleural pneumonectomy (ex-tra-PLOO-ruhl noo-muh-NEK-tuh-mee)

Surgery to remove a diseased lung, part of the pericardium, part of the diaphragm, and part of the parietal pleura.

external radiation or external-beam radiation

Radiation therapy that uses a machine to aim high-energy rays at cancer cells.

gene therapy

Treatment that alters a gene. In studies of gene therapy for cancer, researchers are trying to improve the body’s natural ability to fight the disease or to make the cancer cells more sensitive to other kinds of therapy.


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

intraperitoneal chemotherapy (IN-truh-PAIR-ih-TOH-nee-ul kee-moh-THAYR-uh-pee)

Treatment in which anticancer drugs are put directly into the abdominal cavity through a thin tube.

investigational drug

A substance that has been tested in a laboratory and has won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be tested in people. A drug may be approved by the FDA for use in one disease or condition but be considered investigational in other diseases or conditions. Also called an experimental drug.

local anesthesia (an-uss-THEE-zee-uh)

Drugs that cause a temporary loss of feeling in one part of the body. The patient remains awake but has no feeling in the part of the body treated with the anesthetic.

local cancer

An invasive malignant cancer confined entirely to the organ where the cancer began.


Restricted to the site of origin, without evidence of spread.

lymphatic fluid (lim-FAT-ik)

The clear fluid that travels through the lymphatic system and carries cells that help fight infections and other diseases. Also called lymph.

lymphatic system

The tissues and organs that produce, store, and carry white blood cells that fight infections and other diseases. This system includes the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels (a network of thin tubes that carry lymph and white blood cells). Lymphatic vessels branch, like blood vessels, into all the tissues of the body.

lymph node (limf)

Each lymph node is a rounded mass of lymphatic tissue surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue. Lymph nodes filter lymphatic fluid), and they store lymphocytes (white blood cells). They are located along lymphatic vessels. Also called a lymph gland.

malignancy (muh-LIG-nun-see)

A cancerous tumor that can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

malignant (muh-LIG-nunt)


median survival time

The time from either diagnosis or treatment at which half of the patients with a given disease are found to be, or expected to be, still alive. In a clinical trial, median survival time is one way to measure how effective a treatment is.

mediastinal pleura (mee-dee-uh-STY-nuhl PLOO-ruh)

The thin membrane that lines the chest cavity in the area between the lungs.

medical oncologist (MEH-dih-kul on-KOL-uh-jist)

A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and biological therapy. A medical oncologist often is the main health care provider for someone who has cancer. A medical oncologist also gives supportive care and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists.

modality (MOH-dah-lih-tee)

A method of treatment. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are examples of treatment modalities used to fight mesothelioma cancer.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) (mag-NET-ik REH-zuh-nunce IM-uh-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. Also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

A federal agency that uses science to explore complementary and alternative medicine practices, trains researchers, and provides authoritative information about the effectiveness of these practices to professionals and the public. NCCAM awards grants for research projects, training, and career development in complementary and alternative therapies; sponsors conferences, educational programs, and exhibits; studies ways to use proven complementary and alternative practices along with conventional medical practice; and supports adding the study of proven practices to medical, dental, and nursing school programs. NCCAM is part of the National Institutes of Health.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

The National Institutes of Health, a federal agency and the focal point of biomedical research in the United States, conducts research in its own laboratories; supports the research of non-federal scientists in universities, medical schools, hospitals, and research institutions throughout the country and abroad; helps in the training of research investigators; and fosters communication of medical information. You can access the NIH Web site at

needle biopsy

The removal of tissue or fluid with a needle for examination under a microscope. Also called fine-needle aspiration.

neoadjuvant therapy (NEE-oh-AD-joo-vunt THAYR-uh-pee)

Treatment given before the primary treatment. An example of neoadjuvant therapy is chemotherapy given before surgery.

oncologist (on-KOL-uh-jist)

A doctor who specializes in treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment. For example, a radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation.

oncology (on-KOL-uh-jee)

The study of cancer.

oncology nurse

A nurse who specializes in treating and caring for cancer patients.

oncology pharmacy specialist

A person who works with an oncologist to prepare anticancer drugs.

open biopsy

A procedure in which a surgical incision (cut) is made through the skin to expose and remove tissue. The biopsy tissue is examined under a microscope by a pathologist. A thoracotomy is an example of an open biospy.


A protein in the liquid part of the blood that is being investigated as a biomarker for asbestos.

palliative care/therapy (PAL-ee-yuh-tiv)

Care that seeks to improve the quality of life of patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease. The goal of palliative care is to prevent or treat the symptoms of the disease, side effects caused by treatment of the disease, and psychological, social, and spiritual issues related to the disease or its treatment. Also referred to as comfort care, supportive care or symptom management. Palliative cancer therapies are given together with other cancer treatments, from the time of diagnosis, through treatment, survivorship, recurrent or advanced disease, and at the end of life. Also called supportive care, comfort care, and symptom management.

paracentesis (PAIR-uh-sen-TEE-siss)

A procedure in which a thin needle or tube is put into the abdomen to remove fluid from the peritoneal cavity (the space within the abdomen that contains the intestines, the stomach, and the liver).

parietal pleura (PAIR-ee-uh-tul PLOO-ruh)

The membrane lining the chest.

pathologist (pah-THOL-uh-jist)

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

pathology report

The description of cells and tissues made by a pathologist based on microscopic evidence and sometimes used to make a diagnosis of a disease.

pericardial mesothelioma (pair-ih-CAR-dee-ul mee-zuh-thee-lee-OH-muh)

Cancer of the pericardium, the membrane that surrounds the heart. This is the rarest form of malignant mesothelioma.

pericardium (PAIR-ih-CAR-dee-um)

The membrane covering the heart.

peritoneal mesothelioma (PAIR-ih-TOH-nee-ul mee-zuh-thee-lee-OH-muh)

Cancer of the membrane that surrounds the abdomen.

peritoneum (PAIR-ih-toh-NEE-um)

The tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers most of the organs in the abdomen.

PET scan (positron emission tomography scan)

A procedure in which a small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein, and a scanner is used to make detailed, computerized pictures of areas inside the body where the glucose is used. Because cancer cells often use more glucose than normal cells, the pictures can be used to find cancer cells in the body.

photodynamic therapy (foh-toh-dye-NAM-ik)

Treatment with drugs that become active when exposed to light. These drugs kill cancer cells.

platelet (PLATE-let)

A type of blood cell that helps prevent bleeding by causing blood clots to form. Also called a thrombocyte.

pleura (PLOO-ruh)

The thin layer of tissue covering the lungs and lining the inside wall of the chest cavity. It protects and cushions the lungs. This tissue secretes a small amount of fluid that acts as a lubricant, allowing the lungs to move smoothly in the chest cavity while breathing.

pleural mesothelioma (PLOO-ruhl mee-zuh-thee-lee-OH-muh)

The most common form of mesothelioma. It affects the membranes surrounding the lungs and the lining of the chest wall.


The carefully prescribed plan for a clinical trial. The protocol sets forth what the study will do, how it will do it, and why. It determines how many people will be in it, who is eligible to participate, what drugs, procedures or other treatments participants will be given, what tests they will receive, how often they will be tested, and what information will be gathered.

radiation (RAY-dee-AY-shun)

Energy released in the form of particles or electromagnetic waves. Medical x-rays use radiation to see inside the body to aid in diagnosis. Certain treatments for cancer use radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.

radiation nurse

A health professional who specializes in caring for people who are receiving radiation therapy.

radiation oncologist

A doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer.

radiation physicist

A person who makes sure that the radiation machine delivers the right amount of radiation to the correct site in the body. The physicist works with the radiation oncologist to choose the treatment schedule and dose that has the best chance of killing the most cancer cells.

radiation surgery

A radiation therapy procedure that uses special equipment to position the patient and precisely deliver a large radiation dose to a tumor and not to normal tissue. This procedure does not actually use surgery. Also called radiosurgery, stereotactic external-beam radiation, stereotactic radiation therapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, and stereotaxic radiosurgery.

radiation therapist

A health professional who gives radiation treatment.

radiation therapy

The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy, implant radiation, or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that circulates throughout the body. Also called radiotherapy.

radiologist (RAY-dee-OL-eh-jist)

A doctor who specializes in creating and interpreting pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are produced with x-rays, sound waves, or other types of energy. For example, a radiologist interprets MRI’s and CAT scans.

radiology (RAY-dee-OL-eh-jee)

The use of radiation (such as x-rays) or other imaging technologies (such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging) to diagnose or treat disease.

randomized clinical trial

A study in which the participants are assigned by chance to separate groups that compare different treatments when it is not clear which treatment will be best; neither the researchers nor the participants can choose which group the patient is in. Assigning people to groups at random means that the treatments they receive can be compared objectively. It is the patient’s decision to be in a randomized trial.


To occur again.


Cancer that has returned after a period of time during which the cancer could not be detected. The cancer may come back to the same place as the original (primary) tumor or to another place in the body. Also called recurrent cancer.

red blood cell

A cell that carries oxygen to all parts of the body.

surgical oncologist

A doctor who performs biopsies and other surgical procedures in cancer patients.

thoracentesis (thor-uh-sin-TEE-sis)

Removal of fluid from the pleural cavity through a needle inserted between the ribs.

thoracic (thor-AH-sik)

Having to do with the chest.

thoracic surgeon

A surgeon who specializes in treating the heart and lungs.

thoracoscopy (thor-uh-KOSS-kuh-pee)

The use of a thin, lighted tube (called an endoscope) to examine the inside of the chest.

thoracotomy (thor-uh-KAH-tuh-mee)

An operation to open the chest.


Cannot be removed with surgery.


This term refers to an organ, tissue, or cancer that has not been either partly or completely removed by surgery.

white blood cell

Refers to a blood cell that are made by bone marrow and help the body fight infection and other diseases.

video-assisted resection/surgery

Surgery that is aided by the use of a video camera, which projects and enlarges the image on a television screen.

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