Technical terms and abbreviations for cancer patients

In every medical department, doctors and clinic staff work with technical terms and abbreviations, because this makes communication easier and prevents misunderstandings. Of course, it is not easy for outsiders to follow such conversations and understand reports. This is only of limited importance, because the experts are available to answer questions from their patients and their relatives on request. Ultimately, the enlightenment also serves to build trust. Nevertheless, there are a number of terms that every patient should know early on because they are important and always come across to patients. Those who know them can familiarize themselves with the still unknown matter more quickly.


  • You will encounter these terms
  • Indications of the stage of the disease – staging

You will encounter these terms

Findings and diagnostics

Everything that describes and delimits the disease is summarized under findings. This includes the results of the physical examinations, but also laboratory results and abnormalities. Investigations that have not yielded any usable information bear the information above, without any finding. Diagnostics include all measures that are taken to identify the disease.

Positive and negative

Positive means that the examination showed evidence of a disease. On the other hand, a result is negative if there are no indications of a disease. So in most cases negative is good news.

TNM system (tumor, nodus, metastases)

It is important for the communication between doctors that they can accurately describe the size of the tumors and the involvement of the organs. For this reason, the tumors are given abbreviations in the form of letters and numbers.

T – stands for the primary tumor. The number appended indicates the size and involvement of other organs.

N – is the abbreviation for Nodus. Nodus is an indication of how far lymph nodes are affected.

M – is short for Modus. Here you will find an indication of whether metastases have already occurred. M0 means that there are no clues. This is different with M1. Here the tumor has already spread.

The terms and abbreviations are combined so that the doctors involved can see at a glance what the colleagues have already determined. T3N3M1 therefore means that it is a larger tumor, that the lymph nodes are affected and that metastases are present.

Indications of the stage of the disease – staging

Some cancers show their symptoms very early, others are completely symptom-free for a long time and are recognized accordingly late. It is therefore important for therapy in which stage the cancer is.

The staging complements the TNM system. The statements from the staging are important for the prognosis. A low stage is synonymous with a favorable forecast. However, there are various staging systems, which in turn are not applicable to all cancers. The best known staging is UICC. It is the system of the International Union Against Cancer. The forecast then results from the Roman numeral behind the abbreviation. Another system is AJCCI. The abbreviation stands for the American Joint Committee on Cancer. It is used in the assessment of black skin cancer. However, WHO standards apply to brain tumors. This also applies to tumors in the central nervous system and leukemia.


Indicating a benign tumor is good news because it means it is benign.


A tumor is initially just a swelling with newly formed tissue. The term tumor says nothing about whether it is a benign or malignant event.

The evidence

Evident is something that can be proven. Against this background, doctors also speak of the evidence.


Follow-up describes the patient’s further observation after treatment is complete.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is watchful waiting. The procedure is considered for types of cancer that are hardly malignant. This means the time between the appearance of the first symptoms and the treatment. In this phase, further measures are avoided to protect the patient. This also serves to monitor and decide whether treatment is necessary at all. The procedure can be particularly recommended for cancers that tend to be very slow or even come to a standstill.


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