Glossary of Terms

Home Facing Pancreatic Cancer About Pancreatic Cancer Glossary of Terms

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

185 results found
Abdomen The part of the body between the ribs and the hips. It contains the following organs: stomach, liver, gall bladder, spleen, intestines, pancreas, kidneys, and bladder.
ABRAXANE® (albumin-bound paclitaxel): A chemotherapy drug approved by the FDA in 2013 to treat metastatic pancreatic adenocarcinoma in combination with gemcitabine (Gemzar®). ABRAXANE is a modified form of the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel.
Adenocarcinoma The most common type of pancreatic cancer involving the cells lining the pancreatic duct which produce enzymes for digestion.
Adjuvant Therapy A treatment that is administered after surgical removal of the primary tumor. Adjuvant therapy may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy and/or immunotherapy.
Advance Directives The legal documents that state exactly how the survivor wants to be cared for and who they want to make decisions for them if they become unable to communicate their wishes.
Adverse Event A health-related problem that occurs during treatment that may or may not be related to the treatment. Adverse events may be mild, moderate, or severe. All adverse events must be reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Alternative Therapy A type of treatment not regulated by the U.S. FDA because they are unproven and often promoted as cures. Alternative therapies include treatment through the use of dietary supplements, special teas, vitamins, herbal preparations, and practices such as massage therapy, acupuncture, spiritual healing, and meditation.
Ambulatory Surgery Center A facility that provides minimally invasive surgeries on an out-patient basis. Most ambulatory surgeries require patients to stay at the center for 2-4 hours.
Ampulla of Vater The junction of the ducts from the liver and pancreas at the point where they enter the small intestine.
Amylase An enzyme secreted in saliva and by the pancreas that breaks down starch (complex carbohydrates).
Anemia A condition in which the number of red blood cells is lower than normal.
Anesthesia The loss of feeling or awareness caused by drugs. Local anesthesia causes loss of feeling in a part of the body. General anesthesia puts the person to sleep.
Antigen A substance that causes the immune system to make a specific immune response.
Ascites An abnormal build up of fluid in the abdominal cavity generally related to cancer.
Benign A term used to describe a growth that is not cancerous. Benign tumors do not spread to or invade nearby tissues or other parts of the body.
Bile A fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile is excreted into the small intestine where it helps digest fat.
Bilirubin A substance produced in the liver when the body breaks down hemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Bilirubin is yellowish green in color and is eliminated in the bile.
Biopsy A procedure performed to remove tissue for examination in order to determine whether cancer is present.
Blog A website that functions as an online diary or commentary on a particular subject. A blog may combine text, images, audio, video, and links to other online resources. Many blogs allow readers to leave comments or responses regarding the author’s content. The term blog is a fusion of the words web and log (web log).
Blood Clot A clump of blood that forms in a vein either just under the skin surface or in a deep vein. A blood clot that forms in a deep vein is called deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. See Deep Vein Thrombosis.
Calories Energy available in food.
Cancer A mutated group of cells in the body in which cells grow and divide in an uncontrolled manner and are able to invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells sometimes metastasize from the original cancer site and form new tumors in other parts of the body.
Cancer Cachexia (pronounced kə kéksee ə) A cancer-related condition marked by weight loss due to the body’s improper use of calories and proteins. Cancer cachexia creates fatigue and weakness and may impair the body’s response to treatment.
Cancer-Fighting Treatment Any cancer treatment whose goal is curative in nature. Cancer-fighting treatments may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and/or immunotherapy. Once treatments to fight the cancer are no longer an option, survivors will only receive treatments that improve quality of life (See Palliative Care).
Carbohydrate A nutrient found in food. Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel for most body functions. With the exception of milk, foods high in carbohydrates are derived from plant sources.
Care Plan A strategy that is based on meeting the cancer survivor’s individualized needs.
Caregiver A term used to mean whoever is providing most of the survivor’s day-to-day care, whether that person is a spouse, partner, parent, child, sibling, relative, or privately hired person. This person is also referred to as the primary caregiver.
Catheter A tubular instrument that allows passage of fluid into or out of a body cavity or blood vessel.
Celiac Axis A short, thick artery arising from the largest artery in the body, the aorta. The celiac axis starts just below the diaphragm and divides almost immediately into the gastric, hepatic and splenic arteries.
Celiac Plexus A bundle of nerves in the upper abdomen that extends from the pancreas, gall bladder, intestines, liver, and stomach. If the tumor presses on the nerve bundle, pain signals are transmitted to the brain.
Celiac Plexus Block A procedure in which a substance such as alcohol is injected into the celiac plexus to destroy the nerves. These nerve destroying substances prevent pain signals from traveling to the brain so the patient no longer feels pain.
Chemotherapy A type of treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
Clinical Trial A research study that involves human participants and is designed to answer scientific questions about the treatment and prevention of cancer. Since clinical trials try to control extraneous factors, an interested patient must meet the eligibility requirements set by each study in order to participate. The potential risks and benefits about the study must be disclosed to a patient before he/she decides whether or not to participate.
Common Bile Duct The duct that carries bile from the gallbladder and liver in into the upper part of the small intestine.
Complementary Therapy A type of treatment in which an alternative therapy is used together with conventional medicine.
Constipation A condition characterized by hard, dry bowel movements. It is associated with discomfort in passing stools and/or infrequent passing of stools.
Cyst An enclosed, fluid-filled sac in the body.
Cytokines A group of compounds that allow cells to communicate with each other. During normal functioning, cytokines help the immune system respond quickly. In pancreatic cancer, cytokines can influence the rate at which nutrients are metabolized.
Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) An impartial group that oversees an ongoing clinical trial and reviews the results to determine if they are acceptable. This group determines if the trial should be modified or closed at any time during the trial.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) The formation of a blood clot in a deep vein, generally in the lower extremities. DVT can cause serious problems if it breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream to the lung. Symptoms of DVT include swelling, pain when walking or flexing the foot and sometimes redness in one leg.
Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) The molecules inside cells that carry genetic information and pass it from one generation to the next.
Diabetes A chronic disease that affects the body’s ability to produce or properly use the hormone insulin. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce insulin. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or the body does not use it properly.
Diarrhea A condition marked by frequent and loose bowel movements.
Dietitian A dietitian is a healthcare professional trained in food, nutrition, biochemistry and physiology. A dietitian can provide guidance regarding an appropriate diet for the patient with pancreatic cancer.
Diuretic A substance that promotes increased urine excretion.
Dosage A determined amount of a prescribed drug.
Dumping A condition in which there is rapid emptying of the stomach shortly after eating. It may be characterized by flushed skin, weakness, dizziness, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.
Duodenum The first portion of the small intestine, located just below the stomach.
Effectiveness See Efficacy.
Efficacy The ability of a treatment to produce the intended response. The efficacy of a treatment is evaluated during Phase II and Phase III clinical trials.
Electrolytes Electrically charged minerals that help to maintain (1) the proper amount and kind of fluid in every compartment of the body, and (2) the acid-base (pH) balance of the body. Electrolytes include sodium, potassium, chloride, and magnesium.
Eligibility Requirements A set of basic qualifying standards that must be met in order to participate in a clinical trial. Participants are selected by these inclusion and exclusion criteria.
Endocrine Gland An organ that secretes hormones into the body by way of the bloodstream. The endocrine functions of the pancreas include the production of insulin and glucagon which work to control the level of sugar circulating in the blood stream.
Enzyme A protein that induces a chemical reaction in the body. Pancreatic enzymes aid in food digestion.
Erlotinib A targeted therapy drug approved in 2005 by the FDA to treat advanced pancreatic adenocarcinoma. It inhibits the growth of cancerous cells by blocking the Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) 1 on the surface of some cancer cells. From 2005 to 2020, it was labeled by its brand name, Tarceva®, but is now referred to by its generic name, erlotinib.
Everolimus (Afinitor®) A targeted therapy drug approved in 2011 by the FDA to treat advanced pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. It inhibits the growth of cancer cells by blocking the Mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR) protein. It may also stop the formation of blood vessels that provide nutrients and oxygen to the tumor.
Exclusion Criteria A set of standards used to determine participants who are not eligible to participate in a clinical trial.
Exocrine Gland An organ that secretes chemicals through ducts into the body. The exocrine functions of the pancreas are to produce three types of enzymes that aid in the digestion of food. Lipase helps break down fats, amylase helps metabolize carbohydrates, and protease helps metabolize proteins.
Experimental Treatment A drug, medical device, or a combination of treatments being tested in humans for use in a specific disease or disorder. An experimental treatment for pancreatic cancer may or may not already have FDA approval to treat another disease or condition. Also called an investigational treatment/therapy.
Familial A trait that is common within a family who is genetically related. These traits are inherited through genes passed from one generation to the next.
First Line Therapy The first type of treatment given for a condition or disease.
Fluorouracil (5-FU) A chemotherapy drug used as a treatment for pancreatic cancer. It is often used in clinical trials in combination with other drugs and/or radiation.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) A federal agency that promotes and protects public health by ensuring the safety and effectiveness of medical treatments.
Gallbladder A small organ located below the liver. It stores bile made by the liver.
Gallstone A solid build-up that forms in the common bile duct or the gallbladder. Gallstones are usually made of cholesterol and other substances found in the gallbladder. One large stone or many little ones may form.
Gastrin The major hormone that regulates acid secretion in the stomach.
Gastrointestinal A term indicating any body part relating to the digestive tract. It consists of the organs and structures that process and prepare food to be used for energy.
Gemcitabine (Gemzar®) A chemotherapy drug approved by the U.S. FDA in 1996 as the standard of care treatment for pancreatic cancer.
Gemzar® See Gemcitabine.
Genetic A term that refers to a trait that is transferred from one generation to the next through genes.
Genetic Counselor A health professional with a graduate degree in medical genetics and counseling. Genetic counselors work with families who may be at risk for a variety of inherited conditions. They help families identify and understand inherited diseases and help them interpret how that information applies to their individual situation.
Gland An organ that produces and releases one or more substances. The pancreas is both an endocrine gland and an exocrine gland.
Glucagon A hormone made by the islet cells of the pancreas. Glucagon increases the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood.
Glucose A simple sugar that provides a major energy source for the body. Carbohydrates are metabolized to form glucose for use by the body.
Glucose Intolerance A condition marked by elevated blood glucose levels. Symptoms include high thirst, frequent urination, and fatigue.
Hereditary A trait that is carried by genes from one generation to the next.
Home Care The most common type of hospice in which the hospice staff visits the private home to assess the survivor’s condition and manage symptoms. Most of the survivor’s day-to-day care is provided by a family member or close friend.
Hormone A chemical made by a gland that circulates in the bloodstream and influences the actions of cells or organs in a different part of the body.
Hospice A healthcare model that focuses on quality of life during the last months, days, and hours of life. Hospice care recognizes that life expectancy is no longer than six months and there is no further benefit from curative treatments. Most hospice care is provided in the home with a family member or close friend assuming the role of primary caregiver.
Hospice Team A group of health professionals who work with the caregivers to provide end-of-life care for the cancer survivor. The health professionals on the hospice team include the hospice physician, hospice registered nurse, home health aides/certified nursing assistants, social worker, chaplain, volunteers, and bereavement counselor.
Immunotherapy A type of treatment that stimulates the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Immunotherapies may fight the cancer or control side effects from other cancer treatments.
Inclusion Criteria A set of standards used to select participants who are eligible to participate in a clinical trial.
Informed Consent A process by which a person learns key facts about a clinical trial, including potential risks and benefits, before deciding whether or not to participate. The informed consent process continues throughout the trial.
Inpatient Hospice Care A type of hospice care that is delivered in healthcare facilities, such as a hospice facility, hospital, or nursing home. It is used when pain and other symptoms cannot be addressed at home.
Insoluble Fiber A tough, indigestible fiber that does not dissolve readily in water. Food sources include fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Possible health effects include softened stools, regulation of bowel movements, and lowered blood cholesterol.
Institutional Review Board (IRB) A group of scientists, doctors, clergy, advocates, and consumers at each health care facility that protects the participants by reviewing and approving the action plan for every clinical trial. The IRB checks to see that the trial is well-designed and does not involve unreasonable risks.
Insulin A hormone made by the islet cells of the pancreas. Insulin decreases the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood.
Intravenous (IV) Injection of a liquid directly into a vein.
Islet Cell A pancreatic cell that produces hormones and secretes them into the bloodstream.
Jaundice A yellowing of the skin, whites of the eyes, and mucous membranes caused by abnormally high levels of bilirubin in the blood. In the case of pancreatic cancer, most jaundice is caused by obstruction of the flow of bile through the bile duct.
Jejunostomy Tube (j-tube) A feeding tube inserted through the abdomen into the small intestine, bypassing the stomach. Special liquid food is given to the patient through the j-tube. Pancreatic enzymes may be added to the liquid to aid in the breakdown and absorption of nutrients.
Lactase The enzyme necessary to break down the sugar lactose.
Lactose The natural sugar found in milk and milk products.
Lactose Intolerance A condition in which the body’s digestive system is unable to completely metabolize lactose. It is often caused by insufficient amounts of lactase.
Lipase An enzyme secreted by the pancreas that breaks down fats.
Liver A large, glandular organ located in the upper abdomen. It cleanses the blood and helps digest food by secreting bile.
Lymph System The tissues and organs that produce, store, and carry white blood cells that filter and fight infections and other diseases. This system includes the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels.
Malignant A term used to describe a tumor that is cancerous.
MCT (Medium Chain Triglyceride) Oil An easily absorbed form of fat added to medical nutritional products to increase caloric intake.
Melanoma The most serious form of skin cancer. It involves the cells that produce the skin pigment called melanin.
Metabolism (Metabolic) All the chemical reactions occurring in the body that are necessary to maintain life. The human body metabolizes, or breaks down and rebuilds, nutrients from food for use within the cells.
Metastasis (Metastasize) The spread of cancer from one part of the body to a distant organ.
Mutation A change in the DNA of a cell. Certain mutations can lead to cancer. Mutations can be inherited or can occur over the course of a lifetime.
Nausea A feeling of sickness in the stomach that prompts the urge to vomit.
Neoadjuvant Therapy A treatment that is given before surgery. Neoadjuvant therapy may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy and/or immunotherapy.
Neoplasm A new, abnormal mass of cells. A group of these cells is called a tumor and can be benign or malignant.
Obese The state of having too much body fat. Adults with a body max index of 30 or over are considered obese.
Palliative Care A medical approach to care that serves to prevent, treat or eliminate symptoms and stress of serious illness, regardless of prognosis. Palliative care may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, if their intent is to alleviate pain and discomfort.
Pancreas A long, irregularly shaped gland behind the stomach. It releases pancreatic enzymes into the digestive system and secretes pancreatic hormones into the bloodstream.
Pancreatectomy The surgical removal of part, or all, of the pancreas.
Pancreatic Duct The main exocrine duct of the pancreas. Pancreatic enzymes from smaller ducts empty into the pancreatic duct, join the common bile duct, and enter the duodenum.
Pancreatic Enzymes The proteins made by the pancreas that aid in the digestion of food. The three types are amylase, lipase, and protease. Together these enzymes are commonly referred to as pancreatic juice.
Pancreaticoduodenectomy See Whipple Procedure.
Pancreatitis The inflammation of the pancreas. Pain is the primary symptom.
Papillary A descriptive term that refers to a finger-like projection.
Paracentesis A surgical procedure to remove fluid from the abdomen.
Pathologist A medical professional who identifies diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope. The pathologist plays an important role in providing an accurate diagnosis of the disease.
Peritoneum A thin membrane lining the cavity of the abdomen.
Personal Care A type of caregiving that involves assisting the cancer survivor with activities of daily living including eating, dressing, bathing, grooming, using the toilet, and other needs. Providing personal care is often the most physically and emotionally challenging aspect of caregiving.
Phase A step in the course of the clinical trials process. There are four phases of clinical trials.
Placebo A substance containing no active medication used as a control in a clinical trial to determine the effectiveness of a drug. Placebos are generally not used alone in cancer clinical trials.
Practical Care A type of hospice care provided by housekeepers, social workers, and volunteers. Practical care covers everything from insurance and other financial matters to routine chores.
Primary Caregiver See Caregiver.
Primary Tumor The original tumor. In pancreatic cancer, the primary tumor is in the pancreas.
Protease An enzyme secreted by the pancreas that breaks down proteins.
Protein A nutrient found in foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, peanut butter, nuts, dried beans, milk, cheese, yogurt, and soy products. The body uses proteins to build muscles and make natural hormones and steroids.
Protocol An action plan that contains all the guidelines that must be followed within a particular clinical trial, including the number of participants, eligibility requirements, what treatments are provided and how often, and how and what information will be gathered. Clinical trial protocols are carefully designed to protect participants and answer specific research questions.
Randomize The random or chance assignment of clinical trial participants into different treatment groups; neither the researchers nor the participants can choose which group individuals are placed in. Randomization ensures that groups that will be statistically similar so that the treatments delivered can be compared objectively and without bias.
Recurrence The reappearance of the cancer after a period of time when it was undetectable. Recurrence can appear in the same place as the primary tumor or in another part of the body.
Referring Order A referral made by the survivor’s physician certifying that life expectancy is six months or less if the pancreatic cancer runs its likely course.
Resectable The ability to be removed by surgery.
Respite Care A part of hospice care that provides the primary caregiver a short break from caregiving duties while the cancer survivor stays in a hospital facility.
Risk Factor A characteristic or behavior that has been associated with an increased chance of developing a disease. It is not necessarily a cause of the disease but increases the likelihood of developing the disease.
Scientific Validity An objective scientific index by which the accuracy of a test or procedure is measured.
Secondary Tumor A cancerous tumor that has spread from its original site of formation (the primary tumor) to another location in the body. Secondary tumors are treated with the same medical therapies as the primary tumor.
Seizure A sudden movement of muscles that cannot be controlled.
Side Effect An undesired effect of a treatment. Problems occur when a treatment damages healthy cells and have undesirable effects on the body.
Small Intestine The tube-shaped portion of the digestive (gastrointestinal) system between the stomach and the large intestine. Most nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream from the small intestine.
Social Worker A professional who is trained and educated in helping to improve people’s lives. In the U.S., each individual state has licensing, certification, or registration requirements in order for someone to use the title of "social worker". These standards vary by state.
Soluble Fiber A digestible fiber that dissolves readily in water. Food sources include fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, oats, barley, and rye. Additionally, over-the-counter products that contain soluble fiber are available. Possible health effects include lowered blood cholesterol, slowed glucose absorption, slowing transit time of food through the upper gastrointestinal tract, and bulking of stool.
Spleen An organ in the upper left side of the abdomen that serves to filter the blood. It is located near the tail of the pancreas.
Squamous Cell A cell that flattens out as it grows. This type of cell usually lines the inside of ducts in human organs.
Stage A measure of how far the cancer has grown, using size of the tumor, lymph node involvement and locations to which it has spread. Stages range from I to IV, with I describing the earliest form of cancer.
Standard of Care The treatment that is accepted and widely used in the medical community. This is the minimum treatment that healthcare providers are obligated to provide to patients. Often called standard treatment.
Standard Treatment The treatment that is widely used in the medical community for a given stage of disease. The standard treatment may also be the standard of care.
Stent A small metal or plastic tube inserted into the center of a vein, artery or duct in order to open a blocked passageway.
Sunitinib (Sutent®) A targeted therapy drug approved in 2011 by the FDA to treat advanced pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. It may help slow or prevent cancer cells from multiplying and dividing. It may also slow the formation of blood vessels that provide nutrients and oxygen to the tumor.
Superior Mesenteric Artery A major artery arising from the largest artery in the body, the aorta. The superior mesenteric artery is located near the pancreas and supplies blood to the small intestines, colon, and part of the pancreas.
Superior Mesenteric Vein A major vein located behind the neck of the pancreas.
Survivor A term used to describe any person who has been diagnosed with cancer, no matter how long it has been since the diagnosis. Definitions vary throughout the cancer community and are best-defined by the individual.
Symptom An indication that a person has a condition or disease. Some examples of symptoms for pancreatic cancer include jaundice, weight loss, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and pain.
Targeted Therapy A type of treatment that attacks unique aspects of cancer cells with potentially little harm to healthy cells.
Toxicity Side effects of a drug or treatment.
Uncinate Process The portion of the pancreas that folds backward and underneath the pancreas head.
Vitamin A nutrient essential in small amounts to help the body’s metabolic reactions occur properly.
Whipple Procedure The surgical removal of the head, neck and uncinate process of the pancreas, the gallbladder and distal bile ducts, part of the duodenum (first part of the small intestine) and possibly part of the stomach.

We’re Here to Help

For free, in-depth and personalized resources and information on pancreatic cancer, contact PanCAN Patient Services.


Information provided by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Inc. (“PanCAN”) is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or other health care services. PanCAN may provide information to you about physicians, products, services, clinical trials or treatments related to pancreatic cancer, but PanCAN does not recommend nor endorse any particular health care resource. In addition, please note any personal information you provide to PanCAN’s staff during telephone and/or email communications may be stored and used to help PanCAN achieve its mission of assisting patients with, and finding cures and treatments for, pancreatic cancer. Stored constituent information may be used to inform PanCAN programs and activities. Information also may be provided in aggregate or limited formats to third parties to guide future pancreatic cancer research and education efforts. PanCAN will not provide personal directly identifying information (such as your name or contact information) to such third parties without your prior written consent unless required or permitted by law to do so. For more information on how we may use your information, you can find our privacy policy on our website at