Skin Cancer Glossary of Terms, R–X

Posted on November 19, 2015 in Skin Cancer

Written by Smith, Courtney

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This post includes information furnished by the National Cancer Institute.

Skin Cancer Glossary

Glossary A–H

Glossary I-P


Radiation (RAY-dee-AY-shun): Energy released in the form of particle or electromagnetic waves. Common sources of radiation include radon gas, cosmic rays from outer space, medical x-rays, and energy given off by a radioisotope (unstable form of a chemical element that releases radiation as it breaks down and becomes more stable).

Radiation oncologist (RAY-dee-AY-shun on-KAHloh-jist): A doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer.

Radiation therapy (RAY-dee-AY-shun THAYR-uhpee): The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive 49 material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body. Also called irradiation and radiotherapy.

Reconstructive surgeon (REE-kun-STRUK-tiv SERjun): A doctor who can surgically reshape or rebuild (reconstruct) a part of the body, such as a woman’s breast after surgery for breast cancer.

Reconstructive surgery (REE-kun-STRUK-tiv SERjuh-ree): Surgery that is done to reshape or rebuild (reconstruct) a part of the body changed by previous surgery.

Registered dietitian (dy-eh-TIH-shun): A health professional with special training in the use of diet and nutrition to keep the body healthy. A registered dietitian may help the medical team improve the nutritional health of a patient.

Risk factor: Something that increases the chance of developing a disease. Some examples of risk factors for cancer are age, a family history of certain cancers, use of tobacco products, being exposed to radiation or certain chemicals, infection with certain viruses or bacteria, and certain genetic changes.


Scalpel (SKAL-pul): A small, thin knife used for surgery.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy (limf node): Removal and examination of the sentinel node(s) (the first lymph node(s) to which cancer cells are likely to spread from a primary tumor). To identify the sentinel lymph node(s), the surgeon injects a radioactive substance, blue dye, or both near the tumor. The surgeon then uses a probe to find the sentinel lymph node(s) containing the radioactive substance or looks 50 for the lymph node(s) stained with dye. The surgeon then removes the sentinel node(s) to check for the presence of cancer cells.

Shave biopsy (BY-op-see): A procedure in which a skin abnormality and a thin layer of surrounding skin are removed with a small blade for examination under a microscope. Stitches are not needed with this procedure.

Side effect: A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some common side effects of cancer treatment are fatigue, pain, nausea, vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, and mouth sores.

Social worker: A professional trained to talk with people and their families about emotional or physical needs, and to find them support services.

Squamous cell (SKWAY-mus sel): Flat cell that looks like a fish scale under a microscope. These cells cover inside and outside surfaces of the body. They are found in the tissues that form the surface of the skin, the lining of the hollow organs of the body (such as the bladder, kidney, and uterus), and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts.

Supportive care: Care given to improve the quality of life of patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease. The goal of supportive care is to prevent or treat as early as possible the symptoms of a disease, side effects caused by treatment of a disease, and psychological, social, and spiritual problems related to a disease or its treatment. Also called comfort care, palliative care, and symptom management.

Surgeon: A doctor who removes or repairs a part of the body by operating on the patient.

Surgery (SER-juh-ree): A procedure to remove or repair a part of the body or to find out whether disease is present. An operation.


Tissue (TISH-oo): A group or layer of cells that work together to perform a specific function.

Tumor (TOO-mer): An abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Tumors may be benign (not cancer), or malignant (cancer). Also called neoplasm.


Ultraviolet radiation (UL-truh-VY-oh-let RAY-deeAY-shun): Invisible rays that are part of the energy that comes from the sun. Ultraviolet radiation also comes from sun lamps and tanning beds. It can damage the skin and cause melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Ultraviolet radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface is made up of two types of rays, called UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are more likely than UVA rays to cause sunburn, but UVA rays pass deeper into the skin. Scientists have long thought that UVB radiation can cause melanoma and other types of skin cancer. They now think that UVA radiation also may add to skin damage that can lead to skin cancer and cause premature aging. For this reason, skin specialists recommend that people use sunscreens that reflect, absorb, or scatter both kinds of ultraviolet radiation. Also called UV radiation.

UVA radiation (RAY-dee-AY-shun): A type of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV rays are invisible rays that are part of the energy that comes from the sun. UVA radiation also comes from sun lamps and tanning beds. Scientists think that UVA radiation may cause skin damage that can lead to skin cancer and premature aging. Also called ultraviolet A radiation.

UVB radiation (RAY-dee-AY-shun): A type of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV rays are invisible rays that are part of the energy that comes from the sun. UVB radiation causes sunburn, and scientists have long thought that it can cause melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Also called ultraviolet B radiation.


Vaccine (vak-SEEN):A substance or group of substances meant to cause the immune system to respond to a tumor or to microorganisms, such as bacteria or viruses. A vaccine can help the body recognize and destroy cancer cells or microorganisms.

Vitamin D (VY-tuh-min): A nutrient that the body needs in small amounts to function and stay healthy. Vitamin D helps the body use calcium and phosphorus to make strong bones and teeth. It is fat-soluble (can dissolve in fats and oils) and is found in fatty fish, egg yolks, and dairy products. Skin exposed to sunshine can also make vitamin D. Not enough vitamin D can cause a bone disease called rickets. It is being studied in the prevention and treatment of some types of cancer. Also called cholecalciferol.


Xeroderma pigmentosum (ZEER-oh-DER-ma pigmen-TOH-sum): A genetic condition marked by an extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation, including sunlight. People with xeroderma pigmentosum are not able to repair skin damage from the sun and other sources of ultraviolet radiation, and have a very high risk of skin cancer.

X-ray: A type of high-energy radiation. In low doses, x-rays are used to diagnose diseases by making pictures of the inside of the body. In high doses, x-rays are used to treat cancer.