Quick Guide to Top Oncology Terminology

New approaches to diagnosing and treating cancer are being discovered and implemented every year. The rapid evolution of terminology and new treatment concepts can be daunting for those not working directly in the medical or research fields. As we approach the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which brings together 30,000 oncology professionals from around the globe to examine the latest oncology research findings, we compiled the following list of cancer terms that patients, advocates, non-medical journalists and others might find useful.

1. Cancer Stem Cells – Many scientists believe that every cancer has a limited number of cells that are driving and sustaining the cancer. These cells act as stem cells which can keep the cancer going over the long term. For this reason, many scientists are interested in understanding and targeting cancer stem cells for future treatments.

For More Information: Stanford Medicine Center

2. Immuno-Oncology – Using a person’s own immune system, or components of the immune system, to fight cancer is not a new idea, though this area of cancer research has increased in recent years and has received significant media attention. Immuno-oncology can involve stimulating a person’s own immune system to attack cancer cells, or creating therapies using immune system components, like antibodies, to help the body fight off cancer.

For More Information: American Cancer Society

3. Personalized Healthcare – Each individual’s cancer has a unique set of genetic information and every tumor has its own set of mutations and genetic alterations. As we understand and can test for more of these changes, we will be better able to fit a person’s cancer treatment to the characteristics of their tumor. This idea of tailored treatment for each patient’s cancer is the goal of precision medicine.

For More Information: NIHCancer.Net

4. Epigenetics – There is more than just DNA inside a cancer cell. We know that the genome of a tumor (DNA) is important, but how that DNA gets turned on and off matters too. DNA is the blueprint for what goes on in the cell. Epigenetics helps us figure out how those blueprints are turned into cancer cells and tumors. As we understand more about how the cancer cells turn on and off sections of their genome, new targets for cancer therapy are emerging.

For More Information: Keystone Symposia

5. Resistance – Similar to how bacterial cells can be resistant to antibiotics, cancer cells can become resistant to cancer therapies. This resistance can be present prior to treatment or can result from mutations in the cancer’s genome acquired during treatment.

For More Information: Annual Review of Medicine, Mechanisms of Cancer Drug Resistance

6. Adjuvant/Neoadjuvant Therapy – After receiving primary therapy, cancer patients are often given a second type of therapy, known as an adjuvant therapy, to increase the chance of long-term disease free survival by killing any remaining cancer cells that might have escaped treatment by the primary therapy. When treatment is given before the primary therapy to make it more effective, this is called a neoadjuvant therapy.

For More Information: Cancer.gov

7. Therapeutic Vaccines – Cancer vaccines work similarly to any other vaccine, boosting the body’s natural ability to protect itself through an immune response. In the case of a cancer, the vaccine attempts to generate an immune response against an agent that causes cancer, such as a virus like hepatitis B, which can cause liver cancer, or directly against the abnormal cells that make up the cancer.A therapeutic vaccine is one that is given to a patient who already has cancer. There are currently many researchers investigating the use of vaccines to marshal a patient’s immune system to attack and kill cancer cells.

For More Information: National Cancer Institute

8. Nanotechnology/Nanomedicine – Nanoscale objects are constructs typically measuring less than 100 nanometers across. Nanotechnology is used in many industries including electronics, optics, and information technology, and has found applications in cancer diagnostics and treatment. It can be used to detect cancer cell abnormalities on very small scales, and there are currently many therapeutic nanomedicines under development that have the potential to be effective cancer treatments.

For more information: National Cancer Institute Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer

9. Cancer Genomics – Almost every cell in a person’s body contains a full set of that individual’s DNA from the individual’s biological mother and father. Together, this DNA is called a genome. The full set of DNA that is found inside a cancer cell is called a cancer genome and it contains small changes that are passed from one generation of cancer cells to the next. These changes are responsible for making a cell cancerous rather than normal. Researchers are working to determine what changes turn a normal genome into a cancer genome, and how cancer genomes differ from one patient to the next.

For more information: National Cancer Institute Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer

10. Molecular Diagnostics – Diagnosing and understanding an individual’s cancer is becoming an ever more precise and important science. New techniques and tools are arising to allow physicians to learn about a patient’s cancer in less invasive ways. Molecular diagnostics examine markers from proteins to DNA that define the characteristics of an individual’s cancer. These tools can point clinicians to the best possible therapy, and identify potential new therapeutic targets for researchers.

For more information: Drug Discovery World

ASCO 2015 promises to be a socially charged event with live coverage throughout the meeting. Get the latest news from ASCO by following @ASCO on Twitter and join the conversation with #ASCO15. AstraZeneca will be covering the event on Twitter and Facebook.