Biomarker Glossary for Patients

The biomarker identified is medically understood and there is enough evidence to say the biomarker is a target for cancer treatment.

Biomarker (tumor marker)
Substances such as genes, proteins, or hormones found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that can be tested to learn more about a cancer.  A biomarker may be used to 1) help find cancer, 2) decide on a treatment plan, 3) check how you are responding to a treatment, or 4) watch to see if a cancer has come back (recurred).

Biomarker testing (tumor, somatic, genomic, or molecular testing or profiling)
Testing for genes, proteins or hormones to find out 1) how likely a cancer is to grow or spread, 2) if a treatment is likely to be helpful, 3) if a treatment is working, or 4) if a cancer might be returning.

The removal of cells or tissues to see if cancer is present.

A term for diseases in which abnormal cells grow and divide uncontrollably and can invade and destroy healthy tissues. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.

Cancer Care Team
The group of health care professionals that work together to find, treat, and care for people with cancer. This team can consist of surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, nurses, navigators, social workers, counselors, pharmacists, dieticians and others.

Treatment with drugs that kill all quickly dividing cells, including cancer cells.

Clinical trial
Research studies that use human volunteers to test how well a new drug or other treatment works compared to the current, standard treatment. These studies can also test new methods of screening, prevention, or diagnosis.

The genetic “blueprint” found in every cell of the body. It instructs the cell on how to grow, divide, and perform other functions and is passed from one generation to the next.

A section of DNA that instruct the cell how to function. Genes can contain information about inherited traits such as height and eye color, as well as susceptibility to certain diseases.

Genetic Testing
Analyzing a person’s genetic material (i.e., DNA or genes) in order to identify changes which could lead to an increased risk for cancer. This testing is often done with a blood or saliva sample. It may also be called germline or hereditary testing.

A type of cancer treatment that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body find and fight cancer cells. Some types of immunotherapy target only certain cells of the immune system. Others affect the entire immune system.

An area of tissue that has been damaged by injury or disease, such as cancer.
The likely outcome or course of the cancer; the chance of recovery or of the cancer coming back (recurrence).

Radiation Therapy
Treatment with high-energy particles or rays 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 (systemic radiation therapy, or internal radiation therapy/brachytherapy). Radiation therapy can be used to shrink cancer cells before surgery, to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery, or as the main treatment. It can also be used for palliative (non-curative) treatment.

 Somatic Mutation
A change in the DNA in one cell of the body that occurs any time after the embryo is formed. All cells that come from this cell will typically have the same change, which can sometimes lead to cancer. Somatic mutations are not passed on to children.

Targeted therapies
A type of treatment that uses drugs to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells, typically with less harm to normal cells.

Treatment Plan
A roadmap that lays out the expected path of treatment and other factors in the course of care for a patient.

An abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Tumors that invade and destroy healthy tissue are cancerous or malignant. Tumors that are not cancerous are called benign.