The terms which are underlined have active hyperlinks. Click on an underlined word for a more comprehensive discussion of the term.

Search the g Breast Cancer Glossary of Medical Terms | Breast Cancer Terms & Glossary | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

The Women's Health Resource. On the web since 1997.

Breast Cancer Glossary of Medical Terms

The terms which are underlined have active hyperlinks. Click on an underlined word for a more comprehensive discussion of the term.

Search the glossary by letter:


Saline breast implant: Breast implant filled with a salt-water solution. (See also breast implant).

Saline: A sterile solution of salt (sodium chloride) and water.  Medical saline is typically the same salinity ("saltiness") as blood. 

Sarcoma: A malignant tumor growing from connective tissues, such as cartilage, fat, muscle, or bone. Several types of sarcoma (such as angiosarcoma, liposarcoma, and malignant phylloides tumor) can rarely develop in the breast, and they differ in their prognosis.

Sargramostim: Brand name, Leukine. A drug used to treat neutropenic patients (those with a decreased white blood cell count). 

Scan: A study using either x-rays, radioactive isotopes or magnetic resonance to produce images of internal organs and structure of the body. (See also bone scan, brain scan, computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine scan).

Scar: The healing response by the body to any form of injury.

Scarff-Bloom-Richardson grading system: The most common type of cancer grade system currently used by physicians.  Breast tumors are assigned a grade of 1, 2, or 3 based on observed features of the tumor. 

Scintillation camera: Device used in nuclear medicine scans to detect radioactivity and produce images that help diagnose cancer and other diseases.   

Screening: The search for disease, such as cancer, in people without symptoms. Screening may refer to coordinated programs in large populations. The principal screening measure for breast cancer is mammography.

Screening mammography: See mammography, screening.

Secondary tumor: A tumor that forms as a result of spread (metastasis) of cancer from its site of origin.

Segmental mastectomy: See mastectomy.

Segmental resection: See mastectomy.

Sentinel node biopsy: A new procedure that involves removing only the sentinel node(s), the first lymph node in the lymphatic chaining, to determine whether the breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.  Research has shown the sentinel node biopsy can significantly reduce lymphedema (arm swelling), the most common side effect of axillary node dissection.

Seroma: Clear fluid trapped in the wound.  A seroma usually forms after breast cancer surgery, filling the surgical cavity after the operation and naturally remolding the breast's shape. Gradually, the seroma is absorbed by the body.

Shot: The use of a syringe and needle to push fluids or drugs into the body.  Also called injection.

Side effects: Results of a drug or other form of therapy in addition to the intended effect, such as hair loss caused by chemotherapy and fatigue caused by radiation therapy.

Silicone gel: Synthetic material used in breast implants because of its flexibility, strength, and texture, which is similar to the texture of the natural breast. Silicone gel breast implants are available for women who have had breast cancer surgery, but only if they participate in a clinical trial. (See also breast implant).

Simple mastectomy: See mastectomy.    

Skin dimpling: Indentations of the breast skin, possible indication of breast cancer. See also dimpling.     

Sonography: See ultrasound.      

S-phase fraction (SPF): The percentage of cells that are replicating their DNA. DNA replication usually indicates that a cell is getting ready to split into two new cells. A low SPF is a sign that a tumor is slow-growing; a high SPF shows that the cells are dividing rapidly and the tumor is growing quickly.

Spiculated: On a mammogram, dense regions with radiating lines that suggest breast masses or distortions. The term is used to describe highly suspicious masses that may indicate cancer. However, some post-operative scars may be quite spiculated and resemble cancer.

Spot compression mammography: An x-ray view of the breast that apply the compression to a small area of tissue using a small compression plate or cone. By applying compression to only a specific area of the breast, the effective pressure is increased on that spot. This results in better tissue separation and allows better visualization of the small breast area in question.  Also called  compression mammogram, spot view, cone views, or focal compression views.

Staging: The process of determining and describing the extent of cancer. Staging of breast cancer is based on the size of the tumor, whether regional axillary lymph nodes are involved, and whether distant spread (metastasis) has occurred. Knowing the stage at diagnosis is essential in selecting the best treatment and predicting a patient's outlook for survival.

Standard therapy, standard treatment: See therapy.

Statistically significant: Term used to describe a scientifically proven relationship that is the result of an objective analysis in a large group of patients.

Stereotactic needle biopsy: A method of needle biopsy that is useful in some cases in which calcifications or a mass can be seen on mammogram but cannot be located by touch. Computerized equipment maps the location of the mass and this is used as a guide for the placement of the needle. (See also needle aspiration, needle biopsy). 

Stomatitis: Inflammation or ulcers of the mouth area. This condition can result as a side effect of some chemotherapy regimens.

Subcutaneous mastectomy: See mastectomy.

Suckling: Giving a baby milk from the breast.  Also called breast-feeding or nursing.

Supraclavicular nodes: Lymph nodes that are above the collarbone (clavicle).

Surgeon: A physician with a medical doctorate (MD) degree and advanced training in surgical techniques.   Some surgeons specialize in a specific area of the body (for example, the breast).  Surgeons perform breast biopsy, lumpectomy, and mastectomy on breast cancer patients.

Survival rate: The percentage of people who live a certain period of time. For example, the 5-year survival rate for women with localized breast cancer (including all women living five years after diagnosis, whether the patient was in remission, disease-free, or under treatment) was 78% in the 1940s, but in the l990s, it is over 97%.

Suspicious: A breast abnormality that may indicate breast cancer. On a mammogram, these abnormalities may be lesions such as spiculated masses or pleomorphic microcalcifications.

Synchronous: At the same time. (See also bilateral).

Systemic disease: In breast cancer, this term means that the tumor that originated in the breast has spread to distant sites, such as the liver, brain, bones, or lungs.

Systemic therapy: Treatment that reaches and affects cells throughout the body as opposed to targeting one specific area; for example, chemotherapy.

Updated: August 2006