GLOSSARY of Cancer
adjuvant : A substance that is added to a vaccine to increase the body’s immune response.
allele : One form of a specifi c gene pair, remembering that we have two copies of (almost) every gene. For example, a person may have one brown allele and one blue allele for eye color.
One allele may be dominant over the other and in this example brown is dominant over blue. This person will have brown eyes.
Angiogenesis : The formation of new blood vessels from preexisting blood vessels.
biobank : A collection of human biological tissue and associated health information that can be used as a resource for current and future research. Participation in biobanks is important for research that will benefi t future generations.
biomarker : A biological molecule found in bodily fl uids or tissue that indicates health or disease or the effect of treatment.
carcinogen : An agent that causes cancer.
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) : The genetic material of most living things that carries the chemical instructions for the synthesis of proteins. The structure of DNA is a double helix, which is important for the process of DNA replication.
DNA adduct : A chemical mask on DNA; the addition of a chemical group to DNA.
gene : A section of DNA sequence that carries the chemical instructions to code for a protein. Proteins are needed for the structure and function of cells over a lifetime. There are about 25,000 genes in the human genome.
genome : The complete set of genes of an individual or species.
germline mutation : A mutation in either egg- or spermcell DNA (as opposed to a somatic mutation). Only mutations in germ cells can be passed on to the next generation.
incidence rate : The number of new cases of cancer (or other disease) in a defi ned population over a defi ned period of time.
ion : A molecule with a positive or negative charge. They may be created by ionizing radiation and can damage DNA, leading to mutations and cancer.
kinase : An enzyme that adds phosphate groups to proteins. The addition of a phosphate can regulate protein activity, turning it on or off. Kinases are important drug targets.
metastasis : The spread of cancer cells from a primary tumor to distant sites in the body.
metastasis suppressor gene : A gene that inhibits any of the steps involved in the spread of cancer cells from a primary tumor to a distant site in the body. Over 20 of such genes have been identified.
monoclonal antibody : A molecule of the immune system that is produced in response to exposure to a foreign body. They can be also be designed and prepared in the laboratory and used as a research tool or therapeutic agent. Herceptin is an example of a therapeutic monoclonal antibody.
mutation : A permanent change in the DNA sequence. For example, the replacement of ‘A’ in the genetic code by a ‘C’.
oncogene : A mutated gene that can produce a ‘faulty’ protein product that contributes to cancer (think oncology).
pharmacogenomics : The study of the infl uence of genetic variation on drug response.
phosphorylation : The addition of a chemical group, called a phosphate, to a protein. The addition causes a change in shape of a protein and, in doing so, can switch the activity of a protein either on or off. This is an important mechanism of the regulation of proteins.
premetastic niche : A site of future metastasis prepared by host cells upon receiving a signal from the primary tumor prior to the arrival of the metastasizing cell.
primary tumor : The original site of a cancer that can give rise to metastasis upon progression.
prognosis : The predicted outcome of having a disease.
reactive oxygen species (ROS) : Highly reactive oxygen molecules. They can be produced during normal metabolism that uses oxygen or by the interaction of ionizing radiation with water. They can oxidize DNA and cause mutations that may lead to cancer.
RNA (ribonucleic acid) : The genetic material in some viruses.Also, messenger RNA (mRNA) carries the genetic code transcribed from DNA to the ribosomes for protein synthesis.
Other types of RNA in cells are ribosomal RNA, located in ribosomes, and transfer RNA, which plays an important role in protein synthesis.
somatic mutation : A mutation in any cell other than a germ cell (i.e. an egg or sperm cell). Mutations in somatic cells cannot be passed on to the next generation.
teratogen : An agent that causes birth defects.
transcription factor : A protein that binds to the controlling region of genes and which can regulate gene expression (i.e. turn a gene on or off ).
tumor suppressor gene : A gene with a protein product that plays a role in preventing cancer. Loss of function of these genes by mutation or modifi cation contributes to cancer. Functions of tumor suppressor proteins may include regulation of antioxidant enzymes, cell suicide, or DNA repair, or pausing cell division.
variolation : The practice of introducing smallpox virus to non-immune individuals. The procedure involved using a lancet applied with material from a lesion of a smallpox patient. Although not without risks, immunity against future smallpox exposure was often observed.