AMIGAS Glossary

What to know

This page provides definitions of terms related to the female body and cervical cancer.


Here are some terms you might read or hear related to female health and cervical cancer. If you know the definitions, you can share your knowledge during AMIGAS sessions.

The female body

Abdomen: The part of the body that contains the stomach, intestines, liver, reproductive organs, and other organs.

Bladder: The hollow organ that stores urine.

Cervix: The lower, narrow end of the uterus that forms a canal between the uterus and the vagina.

Fallopian tubes: Tubes on each side of the uterus through which an egg moves from the ovaries to the uterus.

Menopause: The time in a woman's life when menstrual periods permanently stop. Also called "change of life."

Ovaries: The pair of female reproductive glands in which the ova, or eggs, are formed. The ovaries are located in the lower abdomen, one on each side of the uterus.

Pelvis: The lower part of the abdomen between the hip bones. Organs in a female's pelvis include the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and rectum.

Rectum: The last 6 to 8 inches of the large intestine. The rectum stores solid waste until it leaves the body through the anus.

Reproductive system: In women, the organs that are directly involved in producing eggs and in conceiving and carrying babies.

Uterus: The small, hollow, pear-shaped organ in a woman's pelvis. This is the organ in which an unborn child develops. Also called the womb.

Vagina: The muscular canal between the uterus and the outside of the body.

Viruses: Small living particles that can infect cells and change how the cells function. Infection with a virus can cause a person to develop symptoms. The disease and symptoms that are caused depend on the type of virus and the type of cells that are infected.

Cancer and abnormal cells

Benign: Not cancerous; does not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.

Cancer: A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control. Cancer cells can invade nearby tissues and can spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.

Carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the lining or covering of an organ.

Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia: A general term for the growth of abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix. Numbers from 1 to 3 may be used to describe how much of the cervix contains abnormal cells. Also called CIN.

Dysplasia: Abnormal cells that are not cancer.

Human papillomaviruses (HPV): Viruses that generally cause warts. Some papillomaviruses are sexually transmitted. Some of these sexually transmitted viruses cause wart-like growths on the genitals, and some are thought to cause abnormal changes in cells of the cervix.

Hysterectomy: An operation in which the uterus and cervix are removed.

Invasive cervical cancer: Cancer that has spread from the surface of the cervix to tissue deeper in the cervix or to other parts of the body.

Lesion: An area of abnormal tissue change.

Lymph nodes: Small, bean-shaped organs located along the channels of the lymphatic system. Bacteria or cancer cells that enter the lymphatic system may be found in the nodes. Also called lymph glands.

Malignant: Cancerous; can spread to other parts of the body.

Metastasis: The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. Cells that have metastasized are like those in the original (primary) tumor.

Neoplasia: Abnormal new growth of cells.

Precancerous: Not cancerous, but may become cancerous with time.

Prognosis: The probable outcome or course of a disease; the chance of recovery.

Remission: Disappearance of the signs and symptoms of cancer. When this happens, the disease is said to be "in remission". A remission can be temporary or permanent.

Risk factor: Something that increases the chance of developing a disease.

Side effects: Problems that occur when treatment affects healthy cells. Common side effects of cancer treatment are fatigue, nausea, vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, and mouth sores.

Staging: Doing exams and tests to learn the extent of the cancer, especially whether it has spread from its original site to other parts of the body.

Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that begins in squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells resembling fish scales. Squamous cells are found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin, the lining of the hollow organs of the body, and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts.

Squamous intraepithelial lesion: A general term for the abnormal growth of squamous cells on the surface of the cervix. The changes in the cells are described as low grade or high grade, depending on how much of the cervix is affected and how abnormal the cells are. Also called SIL.


Gynecologic oncologist: A doctor who specializes in treating cancers of the female reproductive organs.

Oncologist: A doctor who specializes in treating cancer.

Radiation oncologist: A doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer.

Testing for cervical cancer

Colposcopy: A procedure in which a lighted magnifying instrument (called a colposcope) is used to examine the vagina and cervix.

Endocervical curettage: The removal of tissue from the inside of the cervix using a spoon- shaped instrument called a curette.

HPV test: A test that looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.

Pap test: Examination of a sample of cells collected from the cervix and the vagina to test for cervical cancer. Also called Pap smear.

Schiller test: A test in which iodine is applied to the cervix. The iodine colors healthy cells brown, while abnormal cells remain unstained, usually appearing white or yellow.

Speculum: An instrument used to spread the vagina open so that the cervix can be seen.

Treating abnormal cells and cancer

Chemotherapy: Treatment with anticancer drugs.

Cryosurgery: Treatment performed with an instrument that freezes and destroys abnormal tissue.

Diathermy: The use of heat to destroy abnormal cells. Also called cauterization or electrodiathermy.

Laser: A powerful beam of light used in some types of surgery to cut or destroy tissue.

Local therapy: Treatment that affects cells in a tumor and the area close to it.

Radiation therapy: Treatment with high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. External radiation is the use of a machine to aim high-energy rays at the cancer. Internal radiation therapy is the placement of radioactive material inside the body as close as possible to the cancer.

X-rays: High-energy radiation used in low doses to diagnose cancer, and in high doses to treat cancer.

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