Cancer Terms You Might Need To Know

Cancer Terms and What They Mean

As Chronic Pain and Chronic Illness are areas of specialty for me, it's very common that I work with individuals and families dealing with Cancer. Often, I'm seeing them at the beginning of the process at a time when everything is overwhelming and scary.

During the initial visits, there's often a lot of terms thrown around that families are previously unacquainted with that I help sort out. That being said when there is a new Cancer diagnosis emotions can run high and it's easy to forget the things that we've discussed. I thought it might be a good idea to provide a list of some of the more common terms that I hear and get asked about so that people new to the process have a list of reference.


Staging is the process by which doctors use to describe how far along the cancer is in its process and how far it has (or hasn't) spread throughout the body. It helps both patients and doctors understand the likely prognosis -- which is the prediction of the Cancer's impact on a patient.

  • Stage 0 - In Situ
    • Cancer that is described as Stage 0 or In Situ refers to a highly localized cluster of Cancer cells that is still where it started forming.
  • Stage 1 - Localised Cancer
    • Cancer that is described as Stage 1 has spread beyond the place of origin and is starting to spread to very nearby tissue.
  • Stage 2 & 3 - Globalized Cancer
    • Cancer at Stage 2 & 3 has begun spreading, possibly into the lymph system, but also into the larger region of where it began. We sometimes see the body initiate its defense systems here in a more aggresive way.
  • Stage 4 - Distant Spread
    • Typically, in this stage, the Cancer cells have found their way into the blood stream allowing them to spread throughout the body freely. Typically Cancer in this stage is moving very aggressively.

Another important term here is metastatic or metastasis. This means that the Cancer has spread to another region of the body. 

Benign vs. Malignant

  • Benign: Milder form that isn't actively reproducing or spreading
  • Malignant: More aggressive, in which the tumor is growing and potentially spreading.


  • Radiotherapy: What most people call Radiation treatment. Can be delivered internally or externally, where a source of radiation is placed near the tumor with the hopes of shrinking or killing the tumor.
  • Chemotherapy: A combination of drugs and chemicals introduced into the body in different ways to attempt to kill the Cancer cells.
    • Intravenous: The chemicals go in through your veins, which is the most common form of treatment. 
    • Intramuscular: The injection is into a muscle.
    • Subcutaneous: The injection is placed under the skin
    • Intrathecally: The injection is placed into the fluid surrounding the spine
    • Intralesionally: The injection is administered into the affected area directly.

Clinical Trials

  • Phase One Clinical Trial: A new, experimental trial that is newly being used on humans to define an effective dose. These trials are typically reserved for those individuals on which nothing else has worked.
  • Phase Two Clinical Trial: A trial that has undergone significant Phase One status that is being pushed forward for more evidence and information about its effectiveness.
  • Phase Three Clinical Trial: Trials that randomly match a patient with drugs that have already been shown to be effective. Typically, patients are selected for an established drug or for the experimental drug group to determine outcomes.

General Cancer Types

  • Carcinoma: Cancer that starts on the skin or tissues toward the outside of organs.
  • Leukemia: Blood Cancer in which white blood cells evolve rapidly.
  • Lymphoma: Cancer of the Lymphatic System
    • Lymph Nodes are tiny organs in the body that help fight infections. 
  • Sarcoma: Cancer that develops in the body's connective tissues, like fat and muscle. 


I will update this list as I get more requests for definitions but wanted to provide those looking for definitions with a place to begin their understanding of their diagnosis. If you or someone you care about are looking for counseling for Cancer, Chronic Illness or Pain Counseling, or Grief Counseling in Westminster, please let them know I am here to help.

Best Wishes,


Alexander Michaud