Below are the most common terms relating to ovarian cancer.

A complete dictionary of more than 4,000 terms is on the National Cancer Institute Web site at


ABCDEFGHI – J – K – LM – N – OP – Q – RSTU – V – W – X – Y – Z


[ A ]

Abdomen (AB-doh-men): The area of the body that contains the pancreas, stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, and other organs.

Acupuncture (AK-yoo-PUNK-chur): The technique of inserting thin needles through the skin at specific points on the body to control pain and other symptoms. It is a type of complementary and alternative medicine.

Ascites (ah-SYE-teez): Abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen that may cause swelling. In late-stage cancer, tumor cells may be found in the fluid in the abdomen. Ascites also occurs in patients with liver disease.

Aspiration (AS-pih-RAY-shun): Removal of fluid or tissue through a needle.

[ B ]

Barium enema: A procedure in which a thick liquid containing barium is put into the rectum and colon. Barium is a silver-white metallic compound that helps to show the image of the lower gastrointestinal tract on an x-ray.

Benign(beh-NINE): Not cancerous. Benign tumors may grow larger but do not spread to other parts of the body.

Biological therapy (by-oh-LAH-jih-kul THAYRuh-pee): Treatment to stimulate or restore the ability of the immune system to fight cancer, infections, and other diseases. Also used to lessen side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments. Also called immunotherapy, biotherapy, or biological response modifier (BRM) therapy.

Biomarker (BY-oh-MAR-ker): A biological molecule found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that is a sign of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease. A biomarker may be used to see how well the body responds to a treatment for a disease or condition. Also called molecular marker and signature molecule.

Biopsy (BY-op-see): The removal of cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist. The pathologist may study the tissue under a microscope or perform other tests on the cells or tissue.

Bowel (BOW-ul): The long, tube-shaped organ in the abdomen that completes the process of digestion. The bowel has two parts, the small bowel and the large bowel. Also called intestine.

BRCA1 (BRA-ka): A gene on chromosome 17 that normally helps to suppress cell growth. A person who inherits certain mutations (changes) in a BRCA1 gene has a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian, prostate, and other types of cancer.

BRCA2 (BRA-ka): A gene on chromosome 13 that normally helps to suppress cell growth. A person who inherits certain mutations (changes) in a BRCA2 gene has a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian, prostate, and other types of cancer.

[ C ]

CA-125: A substance sometimes found in an increased amount in the blood, other body fluids, or tissues. Increased levels of CA-125 may suggest the presence of some types of cancer.

Carcinogen (kar-SIH-noh-jin): Any substance that causes cancer.

Cervical cancer (SER-vih-kul KAN-ser): Cancer that forms in tissues of the cervix (organ connecting the uterus and vagina). It is usually a slow-growing cancer that may not have symptoms, but can be found with regular Pap smears (procedure in which cells are scraped from the cervix and looked at under a microscope).

Chemotherapy (kee-moh-THAYR-uh-pee): Treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells.

Colonoscopy (koh-Iuh-NAHS-kuh-pee): An examination of the inside of the colon using a thin, lighted tube (called a colonoscope) inserted into the rectum. Samples of tissue may be collected for examination under a microscope.

Constipation (KAHN-stih-PAY-shun): A condition in which stool becomes hard, dry, and difficult to pass, and bowel movements don’t happen very often. Other symptoms may include painful bowel movements, and feeling bloated, uncomfortable, and sluggish.

Contrast material: A dye or other substance that helps show abnormal areas inside the body. It is given by injection into a vein, by enema, or by mouth. Contrast material may be used with x-rays, CT scans, or other imaging tests.

CT scan: Computed tomography scan. A series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body taken from different angles; the pictures are created by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. Also called computerized tomography and computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan.

[ D ]

Digestive tract (dy-JES-tiv): The organs through which food and liquids pass when they are swallowed, digested, and eliminated. These organs are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, rectum, and anus.

[ E ]

Endometrial (EN-doh-MEE-tree-ul): Having to do with the endometrium (the layer of tissue that lines the uterus).

Epithelial (eh-pih-THEE-lee-ul): Refers to the cells that line the internal and external surfaces of the body.

Estrogen (ES-truh-jin): A type of hormone made by the body that helps develop and maintain female sex characteristics and the growth of long bones. Estrogens can also be made in the laboratory. They may be used as a type of birth control and to treat symptoms of menopause, menstrual disorders, osteoporosis, and other conditions.

[ F ]

Fallopian tube (fuh-LOH-pee-in): A slender tube through which eggs pass from an ovary to the uterus. In the female reproductive tract, there is one ovary and one fallopian tube on each side of the uterus.

Familial cancer (fuh-MIH-lee-ul KAN-ser): Cancer that occurs in families more often than would be expected by chance. These cancers often occur at an early age, and may indicate the presence of a gene mutation that increases the risk of cancer. They may also be a sign of shared environmental or lifestyle factors.

[ G ]

Gene: The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.

Genetic counselor: A specially trained health professional concerned about the genetic risk of disease. This type of professional considers an individual’s family and personal medical history. Counseling may lead to genetic testing.

Genetic testing: Analyzing DNA to look for a genetic alteration that may indicate an increased risk for developing a specific disease or disorder.

Gynecologic oncologist (guy-nuh-koh-LAH-jik on-KOL-oh-jist): A doctor who specializes in treating cancers of the female reproductive organs.

Gynecologist (guy-nuh-KAH-loh-jist): A doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the female reproductive organs.

[ H ]

Hormone: A chemical made by glands in the body. Hormones circulate in the bloodstream and control the actions of certain cells or organs. Some hormones can also be made in a laboratory.

Hysterectomy (hiss-ter-EK-toe-mee): Surgery to remove the uterus and, sometimes, the cervix. When the uterus and part or the entire cervix is removed, it is called a total hysterectomy. When only the uterus is removed, it is called a partial hysterectomy.

[ I ]

Infection: Invasion and multiplication of germs in the body. Infections can occur in any part of the body and can spread throughout the body. The germs may be bacteria, viruses, yeast, or fungi. They can cause a fever and other problems, depending on where the infection occurs. When the body’s natural defense system is strong, it can often fight the germs and prevent infection. Some cancer treatments can weaken the natural defense system.

Intestine (in-TES-tin): The long, tube-shaped organ in the abdomen that completes the process of digestion. The intestine has two parts, the small intestine and the large intestine. Also called the bowel.

Intraperitoneal chemotherapy (IN-truh-PAYR-ih-tohNEE-ul kee-moh-THAYR-uh-pee): Treatment in which anticancer drugs are put directly into the abdominal cavity through a thin tube.

IV: Intravenous (IN-truh-VEE-nus): Injected into a blood vessel.

[ L ]

Laparoscope (LAP-uh-ruh-skope): A thin, lighted tube used to look at tissues and organs inside the abdomen.

Laparoscopy (lap-uh-RAHS-koh-pee): The insertion of a thin, lighted tube (called a laparoscope) through the abdominal wall to inspect the inside of the abdomen and remove tissue samples.

Laparotomy (lap-uh-RAH-toh-mee): A surgical incision made in the wall of the abdomen.

Local therapy: Treatment that affects cells in the tumor and the area close to it.
Lymph node (limf node): A rounded mass of lymphatic tissue that is surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue. Lymph nodes filter lymph (lymphatic fluid), and they store lymphocytes (white blood cells). They are located along lymphatic vessels. Also called a lymph gland.

Lymphedema (LIMF-uh-DEE-muh): A condition in which excess fluid collects in tissue and causes swelling. It may occur in the arm or leg after lymph vessels or lymph nodes in the underarm or groin are removed or treated with radiation.

Lymphatic system (lim-FAT-ik SIS-tem): The tissues and organs that produce, store, and carry white blood cells that fight infections and other diseases. This system includes the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels (a network of thin tubes that carry lymph and white blood cells). Lymphatic vessels branch, like blood vessels, into all the tissues of the body.

[ M ]

Malignant (muh-LIG-nant): Cancerous. Malignant tumors can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Mammogram (MA-muh-gram): An x-ray of the breast.

Medical oncologist (MEH-dih-kul on-KOL-oh-jist): A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and biological therapy. A medical oncologist often is the main health care provider for someone who has cancer. A medical oncologist also gives supportive care and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists.

Menopausal hormone therapy (MEN-uh-PAH-zul): Hormones (estrogen, progesterone, or both) given to women after menopause to replace the hormones no longer produced by the ovaries. Also called hormone replacement therapy or HRT.

Menopause (MEN-uh-pawz): The time of life when a woman’s menstrual periods stop permanently. A woman is in menopause when she hasn’t had a period for 12 months in a row. Also called “change of life.”

Metastasis (meh-TAS-tuh-sis): The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. A tumor formed by cells that have spread is called a “metastatic tumor” or a “metastasis.” The metastatic tumor contains cells that are like those in the original (primary) tumor. The plural form of metastasis is metastases (meh- TAStuh-seez).

Metastatic (MET-uh-STAT-ik): Having to do with metastasis, which is the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another.

Monoclonal antibody (MAH-noh-KLOH-m,l1 AN-tihBAH-dee): A laboratory-produced substance that can locate and bind to cancer cells wherever they are in the body. Many monoclonal antibodies are used in cancer detection or therapy; each one recognizes a different protein on certain cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies can be used alone, or they can be used to deliver drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to a tumor.

Mutation (myoo-TAY-shun): Any change in the DNA of a cell. Mutations may be caused by mistakes during cell division, or they may be caused by exposure to DNA-damaging agents in the environment. Mutations can be harmful, beneficial, or have no effect. If they occur in cells that make eggs or sperm, they can be inherited; if mutations occur in other types of cells, they are not inherited. Certain mutations may lead to cancer or other diseases.

[ O ]

Omentum (oh-MEN-tum): A fold of the peritoneum (the thin tissue that lines the abdomen) that surrounds the stomach and other organs in the abdomen.

Oophorectomy (oh-oh-foh-REK-toh-mee): Surgery to remove one or both ovaries.

Oral contraceptive (OR-ul KON-truh-SEP-tiv): A pill used to prevent pregnancy. It contains
hormones that block the release of eggs from the ovaries. Most oral contraceptives include estrogen and progestin. Also called
birth control pill.

Ovarian cancer (oh-VAYR-ee-un): Cancer that forms in tissues of the ovary. Most ovarian cancers are either ovarian epithelial carcinomas (cancer that begins in the tissue that covers the ovary) or malignant germ cell tumors (cancer that begins in egg cells).

Ovarian epithelial cancer (oh- VAYR-ee-un ep-ihTHEE-lee-ul): Cancer that begins in the tissue that covers the ovary.

Ovarian germ cell tumor (oh-VAYR-ee-un): An abnormal mass of tissue that forms in germ (egg) cells in the ovary. These tumors usually occur in teenage girls or young women, usually affect just one ovary, and can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). The most common ovarian germ cell tumor is called dysgerminoma.

Ovary (OH-vuh-ree): One of a pair of female reproductive organs in which the ova, or eggs, are formed. The ovaries are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus.

[ P ]

Pap test: A procedure in which cells are scraped from the cervix for examination under a microscope. It is used to detect cancer and changes that may lead to cancer. A Pap test can also show noncancerous conditions, such as infection or inflammation. Also called a Pap smear.

Pathologist (puh-THOL-oh-jist): A doctor who identifies diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope.

Pelvic exam: A physical examination in which the health care professional will feel for lumps or changes in the shape of the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and rectum. The health care professional will also use a speculum to open the vagina to look at the cervix and take samples for a Pap test.

Pelvis: The lower part of the abdomen, located between the hip bones.

Progesterone (proh-JES-ter-own): A type of hormone made by the body that plays a role in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Progesterone can also be made in the laboratory. It may be used as a type of birth control and to treat menstrual disorders, infertility, symptoms of menopause, and other conditions.

Prognosis (prog-NO-sis): The likely outcome or course of a disease; the chance of recovery or recurrence.

Prophylactic oophorectomy (proh-fih-LAK-tik oh-ohfor-EK-toh-mee): Surgery intended to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by removing the ovaries before disease develops.

[ R ]

Radiation oncologist (ray-dee-AY-shun on-KOLoh-jist): A doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer.

Radiation therapy (ray-dee-AY-shun THAYR-uh-pee): The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy, implant radiation, or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radio labeled monoclonal antibody, that circulates throughout the body. Also called radiotherapy.

Registered dietitian (dy-uh- TIH-shun): A health professional with special training in the use of diet and nutrition to keep the body healthy. A registered dietitian may help the medical team improve the nutritional health of a patient.

Reproductive system: In women, this system includes the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the uterus (womb), the cervix, and the vagina (birth canal). The reproductive system in men includes the prostate, the testes, and the penis.

Risk Factor: Anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease. Some examples of risk factors for cancer include a family history of cancer, use of tobacco products, certain foods, being exposed to radiation or other cancer-causing agents, and certain genetic changes.

[ S ]

Salpingo-oophorectomy (sal-PIN-goh oh-oh-for-EKtoh-mee): Surgical removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries.

Side effect: A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some common side effects of cancer treatment are fatigue, pain, nausea, vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, and mouth sores.

Surgeon: A doctor who removes or repairs a part of the body by operating on the patient.

Surgery (SIR-juh-ree): A procedure to remove or repair a part of the body or to find out whether disease is present. Also called an operation.

Systemic chemotherapy (sis-TEH-mik kee-mohTHAYR-uh-pee): Treatment with anticancer drugs that travel through the blood to cells allover the body.

[ T ]

T cell: A type of immune cell that can attack foreign cells, cancer cells, and cells infected with a virus. T cells can also help control immune responses. A T cell is a type of white blood cell. Also called T lymphocyte and thymocyte.

Transvaginal ultrasound (tranz-VA-jih-nul UL-truhSOWND): A procedure used to examine the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and bladder. An instrument is inserted into the vagina that causes sound waves to bounce off organs inside the pelvis. These sound waves create echoes that are sent to a computer, which creates a picture called a sonogram. Also called transvaginal sonography (TVS).

Tubal ligation (TOO-bul ly-GAY-shun): An operation to tie the fallopian tubes closed. This procedure prevents pregnancy by blocking the passage of eggs from the ovaries to the uterus.

Tumor (TOO-mer): An abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Tumors may be benign (not cancer), or malignant (cancer). Also called neoplasm.

[ U ]

Ultrasound (UL-truh-SOWND): A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echo patterns are shown on the screen of an ultrasound machine, forming a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. Also called ultrasonography.

Uterus (YOO-ter-us): The small, hollow, pear-shaped organ in a woman’s pelvis. This is the organ in which a baby grows. Also called the womb.

[ X ]

X-ray: A type of high-energy radiation. In low doses, x-rays are used to diagnose diseases by making pictures of the inside of the body. In high doses, x-rays are used to treat cancer.