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Common Terms in Cancer Treatment

Adjuvant Therapy

Adjuvant therapy is a term that refers to treatment, usually chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, or even hormonal therapy which is given after surgery for cancer. It may not always be needed depending upon what type of cancer you have and the stage of your disease.

NeoAdjuvant Therapy

Neoadjuvant therapy is chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy which is given before surgery in order to reduce the size of the tumor or the extent of its locoregional spread. It can reduce the size and extent of a locally advanced cancer to make it removable with a more conservative operation or even to transform an advanced, unresectable tumor to one that is removable with surgery. Not all types of cancers are amenable to neoadjuvant therapy and even in diseases that are treatable by this it is not helpful with early stage disease nor is it a substitute in early stage disease for surgical treatment.

Hormonal Therapy

Hormonal therapy is probably more accurately termed anti-hormonal therapy as this type of therapy usually involves a medication designed to antagonize the normal stimulation effect of the body’s endogenous hormones on sensitive tumor tissue. Such treatment is usually given over lengthy periods of time often for a year or more or until it is no longer effective at treating the disease.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is given for local treatment or control of a cancer. It can be given as part of the treatment of a primary tumor as with following a lumpectomy for breast cancer or for palliation of symptoms from a metastatic lesion such as in the treatment of a painful bone metastasis. It may also be given as primary therapy in place of surgery as in the use of radiation for treatment of prostate cancer.

Surgical Cure

This refers to the removal of all detectable disease by operative means.


This refers to one being completely without detectable disease over an extended period of time. A person is often considered “cured” if he or she remains disease free for a minimum of 5 to 10 years.

Disease Free Interval

This is the length of time it takes for a cancer to recur once it has been considered eradicated.


This refers to the duration of life following the diagnosis and staging of a cancer. It can be measured with reference to untreated or treated disease or death from causes unrelated to the disease process.

Planning for Surgery