Glossary

In our glossary you will find brief explanations of the most important terms used in clinical trials in cancer therapy.

Adjuvant therapy

Additional treatment after full surgical removal of a tumour in order to prevent a recurrence

Adverse effects

Unwanted accompanying events that occur when a treatment is administered in the correct way

ALL

Acute lymphocytic leukaemia

Allogenic

From other people; e.g. allogenic bone marrow transplant

Alopecia

Partial or total hair loss; possible side-effect after chemotherapy or radiation of the head region.

Ambulant

Nicht mit einer Aufnahme ins Krankenhaus verbunden, im Gegensatz zu stationär

AML

Acute myeloid leukaemia

Analgesic

Painkiller

Anti-emetic

Drug to prevent the urge to vomit; often used to prevent vomiting in patient having chemotherapy

Antibody

Protective substances produced by the body to combat foreign substances.

Antigen

Substance that triggers the formation of antibodies

Apoptosis

Cell death that is controlled and actively triggered (programmed) by cells. The inhibition of apoptosis genes can lead to uncontrolled cell division and probably plays a role in the development of cancer.

Benign

Not harmful. Benign tumours respect the natural tissue boundaries, unlike malignant tumours. They can become very large, but do not penetrate neighbouring tissue and do not produce metastases.

Biopsy

Removal of a tissue sample for examination

Blinding

Procedure used to ensure that mental influences and expectations do not distort the outcome of a study. In a blinded study (single- or double-blind study), the study participants do not know which study group they are in, i.e. whether they are receiving a new treatment or a placebo.

Bone marrow

Blood is formed in the bone marrow. Mature blood cells have a limited lifespan and so must be constantly recreated in the bone marrow.

Breast cancer

Malignant tumour in the breast

Cancer

Umbrella term to describe all malignant tumours or neoplasms that often also form metastases. In the narrow sense this refers to carcinomas and sarcomas, but in the wider sense also leukaemias and lymphomas. Benign tumours or growths are not cancer.

Carcinogenic

Causing or promoting cancer; substance that causes or promotes cancer

Carcinoma

Malignant tumour that spreads from epithelial tissue, i.e. skin, mucous membrane or glandular tissue. Carcinomas are further differentiated according to the appearance and origin of the cells.

Carcinoma in situ

A tumour that is malignant in nature in terms of its cell composition but that is limited to a particular location, is not fast-growing, does not cross natural tissue boundaries and is not connected to the vascular system. It is a precursor stage of cancer.

Chemotherapy

Inhibiting the growth of tumour cells (cancer cells) in the body by the use of certain chemical substances, in particular drugs that inhibit cell division (cytostatics).

Chromosomes

Carriers of the genetic material in the cell nucleus; they contain the DNA chain molecule. Normal human body cells have 46 chromosomes, but the number and/or structure of chromosomes can vary in the case of cancer cells.

Clinical study

Scientific investigations of people for people conducted according to strict medical and ethical rules. Their purpose is to obtain information in order to formulate better and more effective treatment recommendations.

CLL

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia

CML

Chronic myeloid leukaemia

Combination therapy

Therapy involving more than one drug or treatment method

Compliance

The patient’s willingness to cooperate with diagnostic and therapeutic measures or to follow prescribed treatment.

Confounder

Risk factor that distorts the results of a study or conceals the actual cause.

Consolidation therapy

Second treatment after induction therapy for leukaemia with the aim of destroying remaining cancer cells by means of chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Contraindication

Condition or situation which means that a particular treatment is not advisable

Control group

Includes the study participants who are not receiving the new treatment but who, depending on the type of study, are receiving the standard treatment or standard procedure or a placebo.

Curative therapy

Treatment with the intention of curing the condition, in contrast to palliative therapy

Cycle

Unit (of a treatment) that is repeated several times according to a schedule

Cytological diagnosis

Microscopic examination of cells from smears, blood or tissue samples (biopsies) to detect pathological changes

Cytostatic drugs

Non-endogenous substances that prevent the reproduction of tumour cells and often harm healthy cells in the process. Cytostatic drugs include both synthetic drugs and plant extracts.

Cytotoxic

Poisoning/damaging cells

Differentiation

Differentiation of tumour cells describes their similarity to or difference from normal cells of the organ in which the tumour has formed. Highly differentiated tumour cells are very similar to normal cells, while undifferentiated tumour cells are very different.

DNA

Desoxyribonucleic acid. Carrier of the genetic information of a living organism in the chromosomes in the cell nucleus

Double-blind study

A study in which neither the patient nor the study doctor know which patient is receiving which active substance (or placebo)

Dysplasia

Malformation, deviation of the tissue structure from the normal situation. Dysplasias can be precursors of cancer.

Einfachblindstudie

Eine Studie, bei der die Patienten nicht wissen, welche Behandlung sie erhalten.

Endpoint

Measurement point in a study to determine, for example, the occurrence of a disease, a symptom or a lab value

Epidemiology

A record of the frequency of new conditions (incidence), deaths (mortality), causes and risk factors

Erhaltungstherapie

Über eine längere Zeitperiode fortgeführte Chemotherapie, die den Erfolg der Induktionstherapie und Konsolidierungstherapie bei Krebs stabilisieren soll.

Erythrocytes

Red blood cells

Ethics committees

High-level independent inspection bodies that assess the ethical and legal consequences of a study and ensure that study participants are protected.

Focal

Emerging from a focus of disease

Gene

Hereditary factor, section of a molecule chain consisting of desoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Genes are responsible for certain hereditary structures or functions of an organism.

Gene therapy

The insertion of genes into body cells to replace missing/altered genes in order to treat disease

Good Clinical Practice

International guideline for the proper conduct of a clinical study

Grading

The classification of tumours and tumour tissue according to their degree of differentiation. The figure (usually G1 to G3) describes how much the cancer cells differ from healthy, mature (differentiated) cells. This information is used to determine the malignancy of the tumour.

Haematological

Relating to blood or blood formation

Histology

The science of the fine structure of body tissue

Hormones

Chemical messenger substances formed in the body that reach their sites of action through the bloodstream. Hormones regulate growth, metabolism and reproduction, and can promote or reduce the growth of cancer cells.

Hyperplasia

Excessive, benign cell reproduction of tissue

Immune system

The body’s defence system, protecting it against pathogens. It eliminates micro-organisms like viruses, bacteria and fungi, and plays a part in combating endogenous or other pathogenic cells that have become defective.

Immune therapy

Form of treatment in which cells or messenger substances of the endogenous defence system are used to bring about a defence reaction against tumour tissue.

Incidence

Frequency of new conditions, usually expressed per 100,000 residents per year

Induction therapy

The first step in cancer treatment, using chemotherapy or radiotherapy to try to reduce the size of the tumour, or the cell count in the case of leukaemia.

Infiltrative

Invasive; in the case of tumours: spreading to surrounding tissue and destroying it

Informed consent

The voluntary consent (usually in writing) or study participants after they have been informed about the purpose, conduct, expected benefits and risks and their rights and responsibilities

Initial therapy

First treatment after diagnosis of an advanced tumour condition

Interdisciplinary

Involving a number of different areas of specialisation

Intergroup study

Large study conducted by several research groups on several thousand patients.

Lesion

An impairment, change or injury to an organ or limb

Leukaemia

Blood cancer; umbrella term for a type of cancer that occurs in the tissue that forms the blood (bone marrow). This is initially broken down into acute (rapidly progressing) and chronic (slowly progressing) forms of leukaemia. The division into myeloid or lymphatic leukaemias refers to the type of precursor cells that have become degenerate.

Leukocytes

White blood cells

Local

In a specific area

Lymphoma

Cancer of the lymphatic system (lymph gland cancer). There are many types of lymphoma, which can be divided into two groups: Hodgkin’s lymphoma (HL) (usually restricted to the lymph glands) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) (can occur almost anywhere in the body).

Malignant

Harmful. In contrast to benign tumours, malignant tumours do not respect natural tissue boundaries but penetrate and destroy other tissue and can produce metastases in parts of the body far from their origin.

Metastases

Secondary tumours. These occur when cancer cells from the primary tumour are transported to other parts of the body via the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Metastases allow malignant tumours to be formed in other parts of the body.

Monoclonal antibodies

Proteins (immunoglobulins) that react with a single antigen. Researchers develop monoclonal antibodies that bond to specific antigens on the surface of the cancer cells in order to trigger an immune defence against these cells or to introduce a cancer-killing substance.

Monotherapy

Treatment with a single drug

Morbidity

Likelihood of an individual developing a particular disease or condition

Mortality

Proportion of deaths, normally expressed per 100,000 residents

Multi-centre study

Carried out at several hospitals (centres) at the same time

Multiple myeloma

Disease of plasma cells, which are a particular type of blood cell

Mutation

Change in the sequence of building blocks in the DNA genetic molecule. Mutations can lead to changes or losses in the function of genes, and so affect the behaviour of cells.

Neoadjuvant therapy

Pre-operative treatment (e.g. chemotherapy) carried out before surgery to remove a tumour. It is designed to reduce the size of the tumour and/or kill off tiny tumour cell clusters.

Neoplasm

Newly-formed abnormal cell growth, new formation, formation of new tissue, often malignant

Oncogenes

Genes that are involved in the development of cancer. They are only carcinogenic if they have certain defects. Intact oncogenes have important regulatory functions in the cycle of cell division.

Oncology

The study of the development, diagnosis and treatment of cancers. In the modern understanding, this also involves the care, after-care, psychological support and rehabilitation of patients.

Open study

Both the doctor and the patient know the study group to which the participant belongs.

Oral

Via the mouth

p-value

An expression of statistical significance. A p-value of less than 0.05 means that the likelihood of the result being due to chance is less than 5%.

Palliative therapy

Treatment aimed at relieving symptoms or preventing complications in the case of incurable cancers, in contrast to curative therapy

Pathogen

Causing disease, or a substance that does so

Pathological

Related to disease

Pathologist

Doctor who investigates and assesses pathological changes to body tissues and cells.

Patient information

Informs patients about the purpose, intention, effects and side effects of investigations and treatments. Written patient information is always provided to complement the information given by the doctor if the treatment is planned in the context of studies.

Percutaneous

Through the skin

PET

Positron Emission Tomography. Computerised imaging procedure that produces images of cross-sections of bodily organs from which metabolic processes can be seen.

Pharmacodynamics

The study of the effects of drugs in the body, especially the profile of action, mechanism of action and the dose-effect relationship.

Pharmacokinetics

Description of the mechanism of action, i.e. the release, take-up, distribution, metabolisation and secretion of a particular drug.

Phase I study

First study in man; the search for new treatment methods that until this point have only been tested in the laboratory and in animal experiments.

Phase II study

Phase II studies investigate how effective and safe the new treatment is at the specified dose in combating a particular type of cancer.

Phase III study

The new treatment is compared to the usual method in order to find out whether the new treatment method is better.

Phase IV study

Rare side effects and interactions with other drugs are ascertained after the drug has been authorised for use.

Placebo

A dummy drug that does not contain any active substance.

Placebo effect

Effects and side effects caused by a dummy drug for which there is no pharmacological explanation. The placebo effect is based on positive expectations and mental effects.

Preclinical tests

Tests carried out in the laboratory and on animals to thoroughly investigate a newly developed drug before the clinical phase and before use in humans.

Prevalence

Frequency of a particular condition at a particular time in a defined group, usually the entire population

Primary tumour

The tumour which developed first; in contrast to metastases

Progression

The advance of the disease

Proliferation

Reproduction of cells or tissue

Radical resection

Surgical removal of tumour, in which the entire organ and if necessary large sections of surrounding tissue are removed in order to ensure that tiny tumour cell clusters nearby are also captured.

Radiochemotherapy

Combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy (at the same time or consecutively)

Radiotherapy

The use of short-wave, very high-energy radiation, alone or in combination with other measures, to combat malignant tumours.

Randomisation

A procedure followed in clinical studies, whereby participants are allocated at random to one or more treatment groups. The aim is to prevent the proven effect being subject to systematic bias.

Relapse

Recurrence, reappearance of a disease

Remission

Decline of the disease. Complete or partial regression of the tumour, normally in response to treatment

Resistance

Insensitivity to a treatment, e.g. of tumour cells to chemotherapy or of bacteria to antibiotics

Sarcoma

Type of cancer starting in the bones, cartilage, fatty tissue, muscles or blood vessels

Screening

Early detection of diseases before they become apparent through symptoms

Significance

Importance; the difference between two treatments is significant if it is large enough that the study outcome cannot be due to chance.

Sponsor

A person, company, institution or organisation that is responsible for initiating, organising and/or funding the study.

Staging

The process of recording and classifying the local extent of the tumour, lymph node status and remote metastases (TNM classification) in order to find the most suitable treatment

Standard therapy

The conventional treatment whose efficacy has already been tried and proven. The best treatment available at the time.

Study arm

Patients are allocated to a study arm for a treatment that is to be investigated by comparison with another treatment. A study can include various study arms, e.g. an arm with a new treatment and an arm with standard treatment.

Subject

A healthy study participant

Supportive therapy

Prevention and treatment of complications and side effects of cancer therapy

Swissmedic

Swissmedic, which is part of the Swiss Federal Department of Home Affairs, is responsible for the quality, safety and efficacy of drugs and medicinal products, and registers, approves and monitors all clinical studies carried out with drugs that are not routinely prescribed.

Toxicity, toxic

The poisonous effect of a substance, e.g. a cytostatic

Trial doctor

The doctor leading and conducting a clinical study. He/she is highly qualified and already has experience with clinical studies.

Tumor

Swelling; in the strictest sense, a growth caused by the proliferation of cells that have escaped normal growth control; benign or malignant

Tumour markers

Endogenous substances that enter the blood in higher concentrations when cancer is present. They are used mainly to monitor the course of known cancers: a rise in tumour marker concentration in the blood can be a sign of tumour growth. Markers can also be detected in other bodily fluids and tissue.