The terms encountered in pediatric neuro-oncology
can be highly technical and many will not be found in a college or household dictionary. Medical language, as you read through journal articles, may seem intimidating or confusing. Commonly accepted definitions of words used in relation to adults with cancer often take on a different meaning when applied to the disease in children and to cancer in the CNS. Below is a comprehensive dictionary of such terms.
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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
A special thanks to the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation for providing the following glossary of terms.. Reprinted with permission from A Resource Guide for Parents of Children with Brain or Spinal Cord Tumors © 1998.
- A -
ANALGESIC A medication administered to reduce pain.
ANAPLASIA Cells or groups of cells that grow without structure. (Often used to describe cancer cells.)
ANESTHESIA The administration of medications, both intravenous and gaseous, to provide pain relief and/or unconsciousness during surgery.
ANESTHESIOLOGIST A physician specializing in the study and administration of anesthesia and in the care of patients before, during, and after anesthesia.
ANESTHETIST A person who administers anesthesia--often a nurse with advanced training in this specialty.
ANGIOGRAM A diagnostic procedure performed in the x-ray department to visualize blood vessels following introduction of a contrast material (dye) into an artery.
ANTI-CONVULSANTS Medications used to treat or prevent seizures.
APHASIA Difficulty with understanding or expressing language, due to damage in the cerebral cortex.
ATAXIA Inability to coordinate movement or balance. Clumsiness.
ATAXIC GAIT Loss of motor control of the legs, resulting in clumsy and uncertain movement. This symptom may occur with any of several types of brain tumors, especially those affecting the cerebellum.
AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM A part of the nervous system that we cannot control voluntarily (the brain cannot control the way it works). This system is divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. It is what is commonly called our "fight or flight" response to stress. For example, some of us may feel uncomfortable speaking before a large audience. We cannot control our sweaty hands, flushed cheeks and perspiration.
- B -
BENIGN TUMOR Slow-growing, non malignant tumor that does not spread to other parts of the body.
BIOPSY Examination of a small amount of tissue by a pathologist who can provide a diagnosis of tumor type.
BLOOD BRAIN BARRIER A protective barrier formed by the blood vessels and glia of the brain. It prevents some substances in the blood from entering brain tissue.
BRACHYTHERAPY A system of treatment in which radioactive substances are placed near or in a brain tumor.
- C -
CANCER Cells with uncontrolled growth. A neoplasm.
CAT SCAN or CT SCAN Computerized Axial Tomography. An x-ray device linked to a computer that produces images of predetermined cross-sections of the brain. A special dye material may be injected into the patient's vein prior to the scan to help make any abnormal tissue more evident.
CEREBROSPINAL FLUID or CSF The clear fluid made in the ventricular cavities of the brain that bathes the brain and spinal cord. It circulates through the ventricles and the subarachnoid space.
CHEMOTHERAPY The use of certain medicines to destroy tumor cells. Chemotherapeutic drugs may be given by mouth or injected through an intravenous line. Sometimes chemotherapy is given directly into the nervous system.
SPECIALIST A professional concerned with developing activity programs and using play therapies to help children cope with the effects of an illness and treatments.
CNS Central Nervous System. Referring to the brain and spinal cord.
COGNITION A generic term involving perceiving, recognizing, conceiving, judging, sensing, reasoning, remembering and imagining.
CORTICOSTEROIDS Drugs used to decrease swelling (edema) around tumors. Also see Decadron®.
CRANIOTOMY Any surgical opening into the skull (cranium).
CRANIAL NERVES 12 pairs of important nerves that originate in the base of the brain; they control various senses, swallowing, and muscles in the face and neck .
CSF See Cerebrospinal Fluid.
CYST A cavity, usually filled with a fluid, sometimes associated with tumors.
- D -
DECADRON® Dexamethasone. A glucocorticosteriod medication used to reduce brain tissue swelling.
INSIPIDUS A problem with water balance in the body due to dysfunction of the pituitary gland causing excess urine production and great thirst.
DILANTIN Phenytoin. A medication prescribed to control seizures and convulsions.
DIPLOPIA Double vision.
DURA Tough outer membrane covering the brain.
DYSARTHRIA Impairment of the ability to articulate words. A symptom that may occur with tumors located in the medulla of the brain.
DYSPHAGIA Difficulty in swallowing. This symptom usually indicates tumors involving the lower brain stem/cranial nerves.
DYSPHASIA Impaired speech with difficulty or inability to put words in their proper order. A symptom that may occur with tumors located in the dominant cerebral hemisphere, particularly the temporal and parietal lobe.
- E -
EDEMA An excessive accumulation of fluid in the cells or tissue that results in swelling.
EEG Electro-encephalogram. A test that measures the electrical activity in the brain, especially the presence of epilepsy.
ENCAPSULATED Refers to a tumor that is localized, or wholly confined to a specific area, surrounded by a capsule.
ENDOCRINOLOGIST A doctor who is trained to diagnose and treat disorders of the endocrine glands. (These glands secrete hormones that effect many body functions.)
EPILEPSY A disorder in which uncontrolled electrical discharges from nerves in the brain cause seizures or loss of consciousness.
- G -
GAMMA KNIFE® The brand name for the device that performs stereotactic radiosurgery.
GLIAL CELLS Cells of the central nervous system that nourish and support the nerve cells and the blood vessels that supply the nervous system. There are several types of glial tissue: astrocytes, ependymal cells and oligendrocytes.
GLIOMA Any tumor arising from glial tissue.
GRADE When related to a tumor it reflects the (high or low) potential for growth and degree of anaplasia.
GROSS TOTAL RESECTION Complete removal of a tumor as measured by the surgeon's observation (not by a microscope).
- H -
HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL Any medical team member involved in your care. e.g.: nurse, physician, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, social worker, psychologist, etc.
HEMIPARESIS Muscle weakness of one side of the body.
HEMIPLEGIA Complete paralysis of one side of the body.
HYDROCEPHALUS "Water on the brain". A build up of abnormal amounts of cerebrospinal fluid within the brain's ventricular system that causes pressure on the brain.
HYPERFRACTIONATED RADIOTHERAPY The administration of radiotherapy in smaller and more frequent doses to equal the prescribed amount.
HYPERTENSION Elevated (high) blood pressure.
- I -
IMMUNE SYSTEM The body's defense system that protects it from foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses that are harmful to the body.
IMMUNOTHERAPY Using and boosting the body's own defense system (antibodies, white cells, etc.) to combat a tumor.
INCREASED INTRACRANIAL PRESSURE or (IICP) Increased pressure within the head causing pressure on the brain.
INFRATENTORIAL The bottom portion of the brain (under the tentorium), consisting of the cerebellum and brain stem. Tumors of the posterior fossa are infratentorial.
INTRAVENOUS Injection into a vein.
INVASIVE Refers to a tumor that invades healthy tissues.
- L -
LASER A technique using focused light to evaporate tumors during surgery.
LAMINA A thin flat layer of membrane which is the bony arch of a vertebra.
LUMBAR PUNCTURE (Also LP) Spinal tap, or needle penetration into the subarachnoid space of the lumbar spine. Used to withdraw a sample of spinal fluid for laboratory examination. Also used to inject a dye into the spine prior to a myelogram or to administer medication.
- M -
MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING (Also MRI or MR) A scanning technique used to diagnose and monitor brain tumors
. With this technique, magnetic fields, rather than radiation, are used to make a picture of an area of the body.
MALIGNANT Tending to grow quickly and spread causing harm to surrounding and/or distant tissue.
MALIGNANT BRAIN TUMOR A type of tumor with the pathologic features of anaplasia. The degree of anaplasia determines the tumor's malignancy, or potential for aggressive and uncontrolled growth. Malignant brain tumors
behave aggressively and require aggressive treatments but, depending on factors such as their location, type, and early diagnosis, may be curable.
MENINGITIS Infection or inflammation of the membranes (meninges) that cover the brain and spinal cord.
METASTASIS The transfer of tumor cells or disease from one part of the body to another.
METASTATIC TUMOR A tumor that originates elsewhere in the body that may spread to the brain. (See secondary brain tumor.)
- N -
NEOPLASM A tumor, either benign or malignant.
NEUROLOGIST A doctor specializing in the diagnosis and the treatment of disorders and diseases affecting the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves.
NEURO-ONCOLOGIST A physician who specializes in the treatment of cancer and tumors affecting the brain and the spinal cord.
NEUROSURGEON A surgeon specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, and surgical management of disorders and diseases of the brain, the spine, and the nervous system.
NEURO-PSYCHOLOGIST A psychologist who specializes in the effects that diseases of the brain and spinal cord have on emotions, behavior, learning, etc.
NURSE PRACTITIONER or SPECIALIST A specially educated nurse who provides direct care for your child in collaboration with your child's physician.
NPO Nothing to eat or drink (Latin "non per os", nothing through the mouth).
- O -
ONCOGENE Fragments of genetic material (DNA) that carry the potential to cause cancer.
ONCOLOGIST A physician who specializes in the treatment of cancer.
OPHTHALMOLOGIST A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of visual and eye disorders and diseases.
- P -
PAPILLEDEMA Swelling of the optic nerve usually caused by intracranial pressure. Also called choked disc.
PARALYSIS Total loss of muscle strength.
PARESIS Partial loss of muscle strength.
PARAPARESIS Weakness of legs only.
PATHOLOGIST A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis of disorders and diseases by studying the tissues and fluids of the body.
PHENOBARBITAL An anti-convulsant and sedative medication used to treat seizures.
PHYSIATRIST A doctor who has special training in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation.
PITUITARY GLAND An endocrine gland situated at the base of the brain that supplies hormones that control many vital processes.
PRIMARY BRAIN TUMOR A type of tumor that originates within the brain itself, in contrast to tumors that spread to the brain from another site of the body.
PROTOCOL A written plan that specifies exact procedures to be followed. (Related to clinical trials and therapies for brain tumors.)
- R -
RADIATION ONCOLOGIST A physician who specializes in the treatment of tumors by radiation.
RADIATION THERAPY A technique used to destroy tumor cells by exposing the affected area to radiation. Sometimes called radiotherapy or RT.
RADIOLOGIST A doctor who specializes in the use of and interpretation of X-rays and other imaging techniques.
RADIO-THERAPIST A physician specializing in radiation therapy.
REMISSION The decrease or disappearance of clinical symptoms of a disease (or tumor).
RECURRENCE The reappearance of signs or symptoms of a disease after a period of remission.
RESECTION Surgical removal of a tumor. (See gross total / subtotal.)
- S -
SEIZURES Also called convulsions. Excitation of neurons in the brain leads to involuntary muscle contractions. (See epilepsy.)
SECONDARY BRAIN TUMOR A tumor that develops away from the original site. (See metastasis.)
SHUNT A plastic catheter with a reservoir and a valve used to relieve the increased intracranial pressure caused by hydrocephalus. It is placed in a ventricle in the brain and CSF is directed into another cavity, usually the peritoneum (abdomen) to overcome a blockage or absorption problem. (See V-A, V-P shunts.)
STEROIDS Medications used to control the build-up of fluid and the swelling of the brain before or after surgery. Decadron® or, dexamethasone, is a steroid commonly used in brain tumor therapy.
STEREOTACTIC RADIOSURGERY A single dose focal radiation treatment in which many relatively weak doses of radiation are directed at a small target simultaneously, but from numerous points of the head. When these weaker beams converge at the site of the tumor, they deliver a high dose of radiation to have the desired affect on the tumor.
STEROTACTIC or STEREOTAXIS CT scanning and MR imaging used in conjunction with special computer-assisted instruments permit positioning (for surgery or radiation) in three dimensions. Radiation can be directed very precisely toward a tumor.
SUBTOTAL RESECTION Removal of the majority, but not all, of a tumor. ("Less than total" surgical removal of a tumor.)
SUPRATENTORIAL The large top portion of the brain (above the tentorium), consisting of the cerebral hemispheres.
- T -
TEGRETOL Carbamazapine. A drug given to control seizures.
TINNITUS Buzzing or ringing in the ear. Symptom common to tumors of the acoustic nerve. May also be a side effect of some medication.
TUMOR An abnormal growth. Tumors may be benign or malignant by cell type, or life-threatening by their location.
- U -
ULTRASOUND A technique using sound waves (to give a picture) which is used in the diagnosis of a wide variety of conditions.
- V -
V-A SHUNT Ventriculo-peritoneal shunt. Drains CSF from a ventricle into the abdominal cavity. (See Shunt.)
V-P SHUNT Ventriculo-atrial shunt. Drains CSF from a ventricle into a vein to the heart. (See Shunt.)
VENTRICLES Small fluid-filled cavities within the brain. The site of production of cerebrospinal fluid.