Understanding Cancer Terminology

Osteosarcoma: From Our Families To Yours
Understanding Cancer Terminology

Cancer Terminology You Should Know

Cancer can already be a difficult undertaking and something that takes hard work and adjusting. Understanding cancer terminology only adds to the difficulty when learning about your cancer or cancer of a loved one.

The following are some common medical terminology that you may hear from your doctor. Being aware of this cancer terminology can decrease the stress and confusion that comes along with cancer.

Common Medical Terminology

You may hear some of these terms often and wonder what they mean. Although the internet can be a good way to clarify, there is a lot of biased and incorrect information as well. With this guide, you can feel a little more confident when attempting to understand cancer medical terminology.


Proximal means closer to the torso. Ex. the knee is proximal to the ankle. If it is the proximal femur, that means it is just below the hip in the thigh bone. These same terms may be used for other bones in the leg or arms.


Distal means further away from the torso. Ex. the wrist is distal to the elbow. Since osteosarcoma tumors are often in the long bones, you may hear them say the tumor is in the distal femur, meaning that it is in the long bone of the thigh just above the knee. 


Local and metastatic are also used to describe the location of the tumor. Local is used to describe the primary or original location of the osteosarcoma. While local or primary locations are typically the long bones in the body, osteosarcoma is not limited to them.


Metastatic is used to describe if the osteosarcoma has moved from its local or primary location to a secondary location in the body.  Metastatic osteosarcoma often targets the lungs, but again that is not the only location.

Cancer Control Categories are methods of controlling the spread of cancer and killing current cancer cells.
Local control is used to kill cancer in a specific site of the body. For osteosarcoma, surgery (when possible) is considered to be the best method for local control. Other methods include radiation therapy and cryoablation (freezing).
Systemic control ​​is used to keep undetected cancer cells from taking root in another location. For osteosarcoma, systemic control usually consists of chemotherapy. Sometimes, immunotherapy (like MEPACT® or mifamurtide) may be utilized.

Refractory Disease

Refractory disease is when the tumors are not responding to chemotherapy agents. Often this will require changing chemotherapy to find an agent that slows or kills the tumor cells.

Skip Lesion

​​When osteosarcoma metastasis occurs locally (within the same bone or neighboring joint) it is called a skip lesion. While the most common metastases are systemic metastasis which occur in other organs, skip lesions are the second most common type of metastasis.


Relapse is interchangeable with recurrent when discussing osteosarcoma. Relapsed osteosarcoma describes the reappearance of osteosarcoma after the primary/original tumor has been removed or treatments completed. 


Resection, or surgical removal of an osteosarcoma tumor, is part of most treatment plans for osteosarcoma. The medical team will refer to the tumor as a resectable or unresectable tumor.


You likely already know of this oncology medical terminology  since this is the only way to make a definitive diagnosis. A biopsy involves either a small incision and a piece of the tumor being removed (open biopsy) or a needle is inserted and a core is taken of the suspicious tumor. 

Understand Your Doctor’s Oncology Terminology

Understanding your doctors cancer terminology and cancer terminology abbreviations is a difficult undertaking. Doctor’s do not expect that you know all of this information. If you are afraid of asking questions, you are not alone. 

However, improving health literacy and asking clarifying questions about your doctors cancer medical terminology is essential to your health and proper treatment. According to an American Heart Association article by the editorial staff, health literacy is the ability to read and understand information about your health and make decisions about it. The article also states that

“Below-average health literacy is very common, especially if your access to health information and health care is limited, said Dr. David Baker, M.D., M.P.H., chief in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics at the Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. But it’s not an indicator of intelligence.”

Common Questions to clarify cancer terminology

  • What condition do I have and what do I need to do about it?
  • Why is this important to me? How will it affect my daily life and future health risks?
  • How exactly do I take this medication?
  • What are the possible side effects of this medication, and should I stop taking it if it happens?
  • Is my condition reversible, preventable and/or treatable?
  • Is there an alternative to the treatment suggested?
  • Are there other specialists I should see? Who should be involved in my care?
  • What about diet?  What about physical activity? Is sex safe with this diagnosis? Are there any limitations I need to know about?

How Does MIB Agents Help Support You

A cancer diagnosis is already an isolating experience for both the patient and their family. Without proper support, going through the process of understanding a diagnosis and all the common medical terminology that comes along with it can be even more isolating. MIB supports families going through osteosarcoma with their experts and ambassadors. The MIB Ambassador Agents have walked the osteosarcoma path and are dedicated to providing support and hope to individuals who are in treatment now. This program can offer answers to you and your family when in despair. Our Ambassador Agents understand!

Resources To Help Cope With Osteosarcoma

*No two osteosarcoma patients are the same, therefore there is no substitute for the expert care of your medical team. This is not meant to replace the guidance of your oncology team. It is meant to share resources, information and support. 

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