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Glossary of Terms

Save Your Skin from A to Z – Glossary of Terms
Abnormal: Not normal or not within the range of normal and contrary to the normal structure, shape, position, condition or behaviour of item.
Acral lentiginous melanoma: A rare form of melanoma characterized by its location: on the palm of the hand, the sole of the foot or under a finger or toe nail. “Acral” means pertaining to the body’s extremities, such as feet, toes, hands or fingers.
Actinic: Relating to the chemically active rays of the electromagnetic spectrum, particularly to sunlight.
Actinic keratosis: A crusty, warty lesion, often premalignant, occurring on the sun-exposed skin of the face or hands, especially of light-skinned persons or the elderly. Frequently treated with cryotherapy.
Asymmetry: Lack or absence of symmetry; having differences in corresponding parts or organs on opposite sides of the body which are normally alike.
Autoimmune: The development of an immune response by the body against its own tissues.
Basal cell carcinoma: A tumour of the skin that seldom metastasizes but has the potential for local invasion and destruction, usually occurring as one or several small pearly nodules with central depressions on the sun-exposed skin of older adults.
Biopsy: The removal and examination, usually through a microscope or with other tests, of tissue from the body in order to make a diagnosis.
Cancer: A large group of almost one hundred different diseases with the common characteristics of uncontrolled growth of cells in the body (a tumour) and the ability to move from the original site to other parts of the body (metastatis).
Cancer causes: Variety of actions and/or factors that can contribute to the development of a cancer.
Cancer symptoms: Disorders or irregularities noticed in the body caused by cancer.
Carcinoma: A malignant growth of cells that tend to infiltrate surrounding cells and which can also spread elsewhere in the body.
Cell: The basic building block of all bodily tissue, made up of a centre nucleus and other material enclosed in a membrane, capable of dividing and reproducing.
Chemotherapy: Drug therapy whose objective is to kill cancer cells to slow or stop tumour growth and to shrink cancerous tumours.
Clinical trials: Organized studies of medicines to determine their safety and effectiveness in as unbiased a manner as possible, often by taking groups of similar patients, trying different treatments on each group and recording the different results.
Congenital: Of or related to something that is present at birth.
Cryosurgery: The destruction of bodily tissue by applying extreme cold, including certain malignant lesions of the skin (skin cancers).
Cryotherapy: The use of an extremely cold liquid, such as liquid nitrogen, or instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal skin cells that require removal.
Curettage: The cleansing of a diseased surface, particularly by scraping a tissue to removed dead or diseased material.
Cutaneous: To do with the skin; therefore, “sub-cutaneous” means below the skin.
Dermatologist: A medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders related to the skin.
Dermatology: The study of the skin and its disorders.
Diagnosis: The determination of the cause of a set of symptoms or the distinguishing of one disease from another.
Dysplasia: An abnormal type of development, or in human tissue an alteration in the size, shape and organization of cells.
Dysplastic nevi: Skin marks (nevi) with irregular borders, indistinct margins and mixed coloration that are often a precursor of malignant melanoma.
Electrodesiccation: To seal off blood vessels or to dry out and destroy diseased tissue by passing high-frequency electric current through it, usually so the destroyed tissue can be removed by curettage.
Epidermis: The outermost layer of the skin. Has no blood vessels and protects the next layer, the dermis.
Excision: To remove, usually by cutting, as in surgery.
External radiation therapy: Use of a machine to direct high-energy rays from outside the body into a cancer tumour to destroy the cancer cells, usually conducted in numerous sessions over many weeks.
Freckle: A small brownish spot on the skin that usually darkens or increase in number with exposure of the skin to sunlight.
Genetic: Of or to do with the genes of cells, by which cells carry instructions that determine their actions, and therefore can be responsible for increasing the likelihood of a child having the similar traits or characteristics, including likelihood for certain disease, as their parents.
Immune: Resistance to a particular disease or infection.
Immune system: The body’s complex and integrated system for fighting infection from outside sources by identifying self from non-self and attacking and killing external threats.
Immunosuppression: The action of lessening or shutting down the body’s immune system, either as a result of diseases or disorders or on purpose to achieve certain desired medical aims (such as to lessen the body’s rejection of a transplanted organ). Immunosuppression leaves the body very susceptible to infection as the normal natural defenses are diminished.
Immunotherapy: Relatively new drug therapies that augment the body’s own immune system so it can be more effective in identifying and killing cancer cells, such as in the treatment of malignant melanoma.
Itching: An irritating skin sensation that results in the urge to scratch.
Keratosis: Any skin condition marked by a horny growth, such as a wart.
Lesion: An infected or diseased patch of skin or any wound or injury.
Lentigo maligna melanoma: An early form of melanoma in which the malignant cells are still confined to where they originated, usually in the epidermis or top layer of the skin.
Liquid nitrogen: Nitrogen which has been chilled below its boiling point (-195.8 degrees C.) so it becomes liquid and can then be used as a freezing agent in cryotherapy or cryosurgery.
Lymph: The almost clear, sometimes faintly yellowish fluid, containing mainly white blood cells, which is collected from tissues of the body and transported by the lymphatic system. Lymph removes bacteria and certain proteins from the tissues, transports fat from the small intestine and supplies mature lymphocytes to the blood.
Lymph node: The small bodies located along the lymphatic system, particularly in the armpit, neck, and groin, that filter bacteria and foreign particles from lymph fluid.
Lymphatic: Pertaining to lymph and its method of being transported throughout the body.
Lymphatic system: The interconnected system of spaces and vessels between organs and body tissues by which lymph circulates throughout the body.
Malignancy: The state of being malignant.
Malignant: A threat to life, specifically a cancer tumour that has the ability to metastasize.
Malignant melanoma: A type of skin cancer consisting of melanocytes.
Melanin: Any of a group of black or dark pigments, especially occurring in skin, hair, fur and feathers.
Melanocyte: A skin cell that produces the dark pigment melanin.
Melanoma: A dark-pigmented and usually malignant skin cancer arising from a melanocyte and occurring most commonly in the skin.
Metastasis: The transmission of cancer cells from one site to another in the body, usually by blood vessels or the lymphatic system, or a secondary cancerous growth that has developed elsewhere in the body from the site of an original cancer tumour.
Mole: A small congenital growth on the skin, usually slightly raised and dark and sometimes hairy.
Mucosal lentiginous melanoma: Melanoma that occurs in any mucosal membrane of the body, including the nasal passages, throat, vagina, anus or mouth.
Nevi: The plural form of nevus, more than one nevus.
Nevus: A congenital growth or mark on the skin, such as a mole or birthmark.
Nitrogen: A very common naturally occurring element, which can be cooled below its boiling point into liquid nitrogen to be used as a freezing agent in cryotherapy or cryosurgery.
Node: Any natural bulge or swelling of a body part, such as a lymph node in the lymphatic system.
Nodular melanoma: A type of melanoma in which the malignant melanoma cells grow down deeper into the skin, causing a nodule or lump that can grow rapidly. It can develop on its own or in another melanoma of another type.
Non-melanoma skin cancers: Skin cancers that are not melanoma. Many of these skin cancers are less serious than malignant melanoma, and therefore, skin cancer statistics are often separated between melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
Oncologist: A medical doctor specializing in oncology, the study of tumours, including their development, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
Pigment: A substance that causes something to take on a particular colour.
Pre-cancerous: Of or related to a condition that normally precedes or develops into a cancer.
Precursor: Something that normally comes before or is predictive of a subsequent activity.
Pre-malignant: Of or related to a condition that normally precedes or develops into a malignancy.
Punch biopsy: A biopsy in which the sample of skin and tissue is obtained with a tool with a circular blade that is pressed on the skin around an area of interest and a circular sample of skin and tissue is removed for examination and testing to aid in the making of a diagnosis.
Radiation: The emission of energy in the form of rays or waves, either visible (such as sunlight) or invisible (x-rays, ultraviolet rays, etc.).
Radiation therapy: The use of high-energy rays generated by a machine and directed towards a cancer tumour to destroy the cancer cells, usually conducted in numerous sessions over many weeks.
Radioactivity: The spontaneous emission of radiation by certain substances.
Recur: To come back, to occur again.
Recurrent: To have a tendency to recur.
Scaling: The use of different measures to determine and compare the size and depth of a melanoma so the stage of the disease can be determined and growth tracked over time.
Sore: An open skin lesion or wound or ulcer that causes pain, distress or irritation.
SPF (sun protection factor): Measure of the efficacy of a sunscreen, telling the multiple of protection the sunscreen provides from reddening of the skin from UVB rays compared to not using the sunscreen at all. An SPF of 30, for example, should result in skin taking 30 minutes to be as reddened by the sun’s ultraviolet B rays as it would be in one minute without the sunscreen. An SPF 15 sunscreen screens 93% of the sun’s UVB rays; SPF 30 protects against 97%; and SPF 50, 98%. SPF does not measure the sunscreen’s impact on UVA rays.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): An uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells arising in the squamous cells, which compose most of the skin’s upper layers (the epidermis). SCCs often look like scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression, or warts; they may crust or bleed.
Stages: The categorization of the severity of melanoma by severity in different stages from 1 to 4, with 1 being the mildest and least advanced. Further subdivisions exist within each stage.
Sunburn: Reddening, inflammation and possibly blistering of the skin due to overexposure to the UVB rays in sunlight.
Sunscreen: Cream or lotion put on the skin to protect it from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays in sunlight, usually calibrated in efficacy against UVB rays according to its sun protective factor or SPF. To provide complete protection, sunscreen should also screen against UVA rays, but this is not included in the SPF number and should be looked for separately as a property of the sunscreen.
Superficial: On or affecting the surface only.
Superficial spreading melanoma: The most common form of melanoma, in which the malignant cells tend to stay in the tissue of origin, the surface-layer epidermis, for a long period. The melanoma grows by spreading horizontally over the skin, creating a growing area of flat, discoloured skin.
Symmetry: A regular shape, having the same shape or configuration on one side of a thing or structure as the other.
Therapy: A treatment given to try to cure or slow down the progression of a disease and/or to relieve symptoms.
Topical: Applied on to the skin, such as an ointment, cream or lotion.
Transplant: To replace one thing with another, such as removing a diseased organ from one person and replacing it with a healthy organ from another person.
Tumour: An abnormal and unwanted growth of tissue resulting from uncontrolled growth of cells in the body building into a mass and serving no function.
Ultraviolet rays: Invisible radiation that comes from the sun that is of a wavelength shorter than that which can be seen by the eye, just outside the visible part of the spectrum beyond violet.
UVA: Stands for ultraviolet A rays, ultraviolet rays with the longest wavelength, 320-400 nanometers (billionth of a meter), one of the typex of ultraviolet rays (along with UVB) that reach the surface of Earth and which can cause harm to our skin. UVA rays account for 95% of UV rays reaching the surface of Earth and penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB.
UVB: Stands for ultraviolet B rays, ultraviolet rays with a shorter wavelength than UVA, 290-320 nanometers (billionth of a meter), one of the type of ultraviolet rays (along with UVA) that reach the surface of Earth and which can cause harm to our skin. UVB doesn’t penetrate the skin as deeply as UVA but is responsible for skin reddening and sunburn.
UV Index: A measure developed in 1992 by Environment Canada to tell the intensity of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation in the sunburn spectrum and broadcast across Canada in weather forecasts. It conforms with the standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and is forecast for 48 locations across Canada. The UV Index ranges from 0 to 11+ (the higher the number, the higher the UV levels). The highest values are found on mountain tops at the equator. In Canada, the UV Index generally varies from 0 to 10. For more information, visit Environment Canada.
Wart: A hard, rough lump growing on the skin, caused by infection with certain viruses and occurring typically on the hands or feet.
Xeroderma: Excessive or abnormal dryness of the skin.
Xeroderma pigmentosum: A rare, hereditary skin disorder caused by a defect in the skin’s ability to repair itself after being damaged by ultraviolet rays from the sun.