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Defining Terms: Glossary

Taking control is easier when you know the details. Learn some common medical terms that will help you navigate your advanced prostate cancer journey. You will see these terms throughout the site and you may have already heard them from your healthcare team, so it is important to be familiar with them.

Active Surveillance

A treatment plan that involves closely monitoring the cancer but not giving any treatment unless there are changes in test results that show the condition is getting worse. Certain exams, such as digital rectal exam (DRE), prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests, and sometimes biopsies, are done on a regular schedule.

Adrenal Glands

Glands that sit on top of the kidneys that produce steroids and hormones.

Androgen

Category of sex hormones that promote the development and maintenance of male sex characteristics.

Androgen Deprivation Therapy (ADT)

A type of hormone therapy that is given to suppress or block the production or action of male hormones, primarily testosterone. There is a surgical option (orchiectomy) and several medical options.

Androgen Pathway TREATMENTS

Cancer that has stopped responding to ADT may require additional hormone therapy that can either block androgens from binding inside prostate cancer cells or reduce production of androgens at multiple sources.

Anti-androgens

Drugs that prevent androgens from binding to androgen receptors, which are proteins found in prostate cells.

Brachytherapy (internal radiation)

Placement of tiny radioactive “seeds” inside the prostate to attack the cancer.

Castrate level

Occurs when the blood levels of testosterone in a man drop due to surgical or chemical (drug) therapy.

CASTRATION-SENSITIVE PROSTATE CANCER

Prostate cancer that still responds to a medical or surgical treatment that lowers testosterone.

Chemotherapy

Type of drug(s) that kill cancer cells.

CLINICAL TRIAL

A type of study that tests how well medical approaches work in people.

Digital rectal examination (DRE)

Insertion of a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum by a physician to check for hard or lumpy areas in the prostate through the rectal wall.

External beam radiation

Prostate cancer treatment in which radiation is focused on the prostate gland from a source outside the body.

Gleason score

A scale that helps doctors measure how closely the cancer cells resemble healthy cells and whether the cancer cells are less aggressive or more aggressive.

HORMONE-SENSITIVE PROSTATE CANCER

Prostate cancer that still responds to medical or surgical treatment that lowers testosterone.

Immunotherapy

Treatment to boost or restore the ability of the immune system to fight cancer.

Investigational Treatment

Treatment that is still being evaluated through clinical trials and not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Lymph node

One of numerous small organs whose function is to filter substances within the lymphatic system and contains white blood cells that assist in the body’s immune system to infections and diseases.

METASTASIS

The spread of cancer from the place where it first formed to another part of the body.

Metastatic Prostate Cancer

Cancer that has spread beyond the prostate region to other parts of the body such as bones.

Metastatic Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer (mCRPC)

Prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body and no longer responds to a medical or surgical treatment that lowers testosterone.

Minimally Invasive Procedures

Surgery that is done using small incisions (cuts) and few stitches. During minimally invasive surgery, one or more small incisions may be made in the body.

Non-Metastatic Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer (nmCRPC)

Prostate cancer that has not spread to other parts of the body and no longer responds to a medical or surgical treatment that lowers testosterone.

Observation

An option where a doctor would continue to gather information about the patient's prostate cancer however would initiate treatment unless symptoms, spread (metastasis), and/or recurrence of the prostate cancer would require it.

Orchiectomy

Surgical removal of the testicles to stop or decrease the body's production of testosterone, a hormone that can help feed prostate cancer growth. 

PALLIATIVE CARE

A type of care given to patients with a serious, life-threatening, and/or terminal illness in order to improve their quality of life.

Pelvic lymph node dissection

Surgery to remove lymph nodes in the pelvis for examination under a microscope to see if they contain cancer. Lymph nodes are small structures that work as filters for harmful substances, but can also collect fluid, waste material, and substances that are in the body tissues.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test

Measures the level of PSA, a protein produced by prostate gland cells, in the blood. Used as a screening tool, as prostate cancer or benign (non-cancerous) conditions can also increase a PSA level.

Radiation therapy

Use of high-energy rays or particles to kill cancer cells. The two main types of radiation therapy are external beam radiation and brachytherapy (internal radiation).

Radical prostatectomy

Surgery to remove the entire prostate gland plus some surrounding tissue to remove the cancer.

Recurrence risk

The risk of the return of cancer after treatment and after a period of time during which the cancer cannot be detected. 

Salvage Therapy

Treatment that is given after the cancer has not responded to other treatments.

Semen

A mixture of fluids and cells released from a penis at the moment of orgasm and is comprised of sperm (male reproductive cells produced by the testicles), and of fluids produced by the prostate and other sex glands.

Seminal Vesicles

A gland involved in the production of semen.

Surgery

An option for localized prostate cancer is to perform a radical prostatectomy to remove the prostate gland and some surrounding tissue. Some prostatectomies include a pelvic lymph node dissection to remove lymph nodes near the prostate.

Transrectal biopsy

The most common way of performing a prostate biopsy, a transrectal biopsy is performed by passing the needle through the wall of the rectum to collect tissue samples from the prostate.

Transrectal ultrasound

The doctor inserts a thin ultrasound probe into the rectum to create images of the prostate. Sound waves guide the prostate biopsy needle into place and help the doctor target suspicious areas.

Watchful Waiting

May be an option for older men and those with other serious or life-threatening illnesses. With watchful waiting, routine PSA tests, DRE, and biopsies are not usually performed. If a man develops symptoms from the prostate cancer, then treatment may be recommended to relieve those symptoms.