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Lung cancer: Glossary of terms

Here is a selection of terms which are relevant to the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.


  • Bronchoscopy :
    The investigation whereby the doctor looks down the throat and into the wind-pipe (the trachea) and bronchial tubes to see directly the tumour. The usual first type of bronchoscopy is the fibreoptic scope which is a wiggly/flexible and narrow tube which is manipulated the nose to reach the air passages in the conscious patient. The second type of bronchoscopy is via the rigid scope and allows the operator to assess fixation of the tumour better and get a larger biopsy; the procedure is performed under general anaesthesia.


  • Mediastinoscopy :
    This is the procedure where the operator manipulates a telescope (of sorts) through the subcutaneous tissues of the neck and down into the central chest (the mediastinum) to inspect and biopsy the nodal regions here.


  • Pneumonectomy :
    The removal of a lung.


  • Lobectomy :
    The removal of a lobe of one lung.


  • Thoracotomy :
    The surgical operation of entering and exploring the chest.


  • Chemosensitive :
    Sensitive to chemotherapy.


  • Radiosensitive :
    Sensitive to radiotherapy.


  • Palliative therapy :
    This refers to therapy delivered with patient comfort in mind, and not cure (usually because cure is not possible).


  • Radical treatment :
    This refers to the delivery of therapy with cure in mind.


  • Biopsy :
    The removal of tissue (usually referring to a sample) of the tumour, either by needle aspiration from the lesion or surgical removal of a piece, for diagnostic analysis under the microscope.


  • Metastases :
    Also known as 'secondary cancer', metastatic disease refers to the predisposition of cancer to spread to other sites in the body. Indeed, it is this property of cancer that makes it so fatal (e.g. the term cancer metastatic to liver implies that a cancer that may have arisen originally in the lung or breast etc. has shed off cells that have travelled to the liver and taken fresh roots here.

It is important to note that when the doctor refers to metastatic cancer in the liver or metastatic disease in the bones, this is not the same as he means when he uses the term: 'liver cancer' or 'bone cancer'.


The doctor means liver cancer when he refers to hepatocellular carcinoma (i.e. a cancer that originated in the liver) and he means bone cancer when he is referring to osteogenic sarcoma, which is a primary bone cancer. The point is worth labouring because secondary cancer in the liver, from, say, breast cancer, behaves like breast cancer and responds to drugs that are active in breast cancer and does not respond to agents that are used in osteogenic sarcoma, etc. etc.

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