Cancer Terms and Pronunciations

ascorbic acid    listen   (uh-SKOR-bik A-sid)

A nutrient that the body needs in small amounts to function and stay healthy. Ascorbic acid helps fight infections, heal wounds, and keep tissues healthy. It is an antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage caused by free radicals (highly reactive chemicals). Ascorbic acid is found in all fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, strawberries, cantaloupe, green peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, leafy greens, and potatoes. It is water-soluble (can dissolve in water) and must be taken in every day. Ascorbic acid is being studied in the prevention and treatment of some types of cancer. Also called vitamin C.

ASCUS    listen

Abnormal cells from the outer walls of the cervix (the lower, narrow end of the uterus). Abnormal squamous cells (thin, flat cells that look like fish scales) are found in a low number of Pap smears (a procedure used to detect cervical cancer) and may indicate infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) or another infectious agent. The risk of developing cervical cancer is very low for patients with ASCUS without HPV infection. Also called atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance.

aseptic necrosis    listen   (ay-SEP-tik neh-KROH-sis)

A condition in which there is a loss of blood flow to bone tissue, which causes the bone to die. It is most common in the hips, knees, shoulders, and ankles. It may be caused by long-term use of steroid medicines, alcohol abuse, joint injuries, and certain diseases, such as cancer and arthritis. It may also occur at some point in time after cancer treatment that included methotrexate, bisphosphonates, or corticosteroids. Also called avascular necrosis, ischemic necrosis, and osteonecrosis.

asparaginase    listen   (as-PAYR-uh-jih-NAYS)

A drug that is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and is being studied in the treatment of some other types of cancer. It is an enzyme taken from the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli). It breaks down the amino acid asparagine and may block the growth of tumor cells that need asparagine to grow. Also called Elspar and L-asparaginase.

asparaginase Erwinia chrysanthemi    listen   (as-PAYR-uh-jih-NAYS er-WIH-nee-uh krih-SAN-theh-my)

A drug used with other anticancer drugs to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). It is an enzyme that comes from the Erwinia chrysanthemi bacterium. It is used in patients who cannot take a similar drug that comes from the E. coli bacterium. It is also being studied in the treatment of other types of cancer. It breaks down the amino acid asparagine and may block the growth of cancer cells that need asparagine to grow. It may also kill cancer cells. Also called Erwinaze.

aspartate transaminase    listen   (as-PAR-tayt tranz-A-mih-nays)

An enzyme found in the liver, heart, and other tissues. A high level of aspartate transaminase released into the blood may be a sign of liver or heart damage, cancer, or other diseases. Also called serum glutamic-oxaloacetic transaminase and SGOT.

aspergillosis    listen   (AS-per-jih-LOH-sis)

An infectious fungal disease that occurs most often in the skin, ears, nasal sinuses, and lungs of people with suppressed immune systems.

Aspergillus    listen   (AS-per-JIH-lus)

Fungi commonly found in soil. Certain types of Aspergillus may cause disease, especially in people who have suppressed immune systems.


Aspirate (pronounced AS-pih-rit) refers to fluid, tissue, or other substance that is withdrawn from a body cavity, cyst, or tumor. Aspirate (pronounced AS-pih-rayt) refers to the act of withdrawing the fluid, tissue, or other substance through a needle. It also refers to the accidental breathing in of food or fluid into the lungs. This can cause serious problems, such as pneumonia and other lung problems.

aspiration    listen   (AS-pih-RAY-shun)

Removal of fluid or tissue through a needle. Also, the accidental breathing in of food or fluid into the lungs.

aspirin    listen   (AS-pih-rin)

A drug that reduces pain, fever, inflammation, and blood clotting. Aspirin belongs to the family of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents. It is also being studied in cancer prevention.


A soft tissue tumor that is most common in older children and teenagers. It begins in the soft supporting tissue that connects and surrounds the organs and other tissues. ASPS usually occurs in the legs, but can also occur in the arms, hands, head, or neck. It can cause the growth of new blood vessels that help the tumor grow and spread. Also called alveolar soft part sarcoma.

assay    listen   (A-say)

A laboratory test to find and measure the amount of a specific substance.

assent process    listen   (uh-SENT PRAH-ses)

A process that is required by law in which children or adolescents are given easy-to-understand information about a clinical trial to help them decide if they want to take part in the trial. The patient is given a chance to ask questions about what will happen during the trial, why it’s being done, and what they will be asked to do. Formal consent to enter the trial comes from the parent or guardian.

assessment    listen   (uh-SES-ment)

In healthcare, a process used to learn about a patient’s condition. This may include a complete medical history, medical tests, a physical exam, a test of learning skills, tests to find out if the patient is able to carry out the tasks of daily living, a mental health evaluation, and a review of social support and community resources available to the patient.

assistive device    listen   (uh-SIS-tiv dee-VISE)

A tool that helps a person with a disability to do a certain task. Examples are a cane, wheelchair, scooter, walker, hearing aid, or special bed.

assistive technology    listen   (uh-SIS-tiv tek-NAH-loh-jee)

Any device or technology that helps a disabled person. Examples are special grips for holding utensils, computer screen monitors to help a person with low vision read more easily, computers controlled by talking, telephones that make the sound louder, and lifters to help a person rise out of a chair.

asthenia    listen   (as-THEE-nee-uh)

Weakness; lack of energy and strength.

asthma    listen   (AZ-muh)

A chronic disease in which the bronchial airways in the lungs become narrowed and swollen, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, and rapid breathing. An attack may be brought on by pet hair, dust, smoke, pollen, mold, exercise, cold air, or stress.

astrocyte    listen   (AS-troh-site)

A large, star-shaped cell that holds nerve cells in place and helps them develop and work the way they should. An astrocyte is a type of glial cell.

astrocytoma    listen   (AS-troh-sy-TOH-muh)

A tumor that begins in the brain or spinal cord in small, star-shaped cells called astrocytes.

asymmetry    listen   (ay-SIH-meh-tree)

Lack or absence of balanced proportions between parts of a thing.

asymptomatic    listen   (AY-sim-toh-MA-tik)

Having no signs or symptoms of disease.

asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis    listen   (AY-sim-toh-MA-tik in-FLA-muh-TOR-ee PROS-tuh-TY-tis)

Inflammation of the prostate gland where the only symptom is the presence of white blood cells in the prostate fluid.


An aggressive cancer of the central nervous system, kidney, or liver that occurs in very young children. Also called ATT/RHT and atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor.


A substance being studied in the treatment of some types of cancer. AT7519M blocks enzymes needed for cells to divide. It is a type of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor. Also called CDK inhibitor AT7519M.