There have been many times I have talked with patients and families to review test results or discuss procedures only to get a blank stare or confused look when I use a word that was different than what one of their other doctors used. After clearing up the confusion, I realized that there are many people walking around who really don’t understand the information being told to them.
The way doctors phrase different things or say words often times depends on where and how long ago they did their medical training. Doctors practicing in different parts of the country may say things differently. Doctors who trained overseas may use very different words to describe things. Also, some medical terminology can change over time.
Here are some common terms that I’ve seen patients confuse.
Mass, lesion, tumor and nodule – All of these terms can be used interchangeably to describe a lump of cancerous tissue. They can also be used to describe a lump of non-cancerous or benign tissue. This is why it is important to confirm with the doctor if they are talking about cancerous or benign lumps.
Lumpectomy and partial mastectomy – These are both breast conservative procedures that remove the cancerous lump from the breast along with a rim of normal breast tissue.
Radiation Oncologist and Medical Oncologist – Many people hear the word oncologist (a doctor who specializes in cancer) and don’t realize that there are different types of oncologists. A radiation oncologist is a doctor that uses high energy x-rays to treat cancer. A medical oncologist is a doctor that uses medicine, including chemotherapy to treat cancer.
In addition to confusing terms, there are some common misunderstood concepts in the cancer world.
Example 1 – If a person has breast cancer, this means the cancer started in the breast from tissue cells that normally form the breast. If this same breast cancer spreads to another part of the body like the bone or lung, it is still breast cancer. It is not bone cancer or lung cancer.
Example 2 – It is possible for a cancer to start in one part of the body like the breast, but the cells that form the cancer are cells from another part of the body like the lymph nodes. In this example, the person would have lymphoma and not breast cancer. This cancer would be treated completely differently than breast cancer.
Example 3 – Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy are not the same thing. Radiation therapy is high energy x-rays or other charged particles that can be used to treat cancer. Chemotherapy is medication that is often given through the vein. It can also be taken by mouth or even applied to the skin in some cases.
I hope this post has cleared up a few things that you may have found confusing. I’m sure there are more and I will be sure to address them as I come across them. Let me know if there are things you don’t understand.