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Glossary of Commonly Used Medical Terms

Active surveillance

Regular testing and biopsies of a localised prostate cancer

Benign prostate enlargement

Non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate; known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)

Biopsy of the prostate

Removal of small pieces of tissue from the prostate gland. Tissue samples are taken from different areas of the prostate, and then examined under the microscope to see if they are cancerous


A type of prostate radiotherapy – involves the insertion of radioactive seeds or rods directly into the prostate


Usually refers to the killing of cancer cells with cytotoxic chemicals (cytotoxic means toxic to cells)

Complementary therapies

Therapies that are sometimes used together with conventional treatments to help manage treatment side-effects, or improve mental and physical wellbeing

Digital Rectal Examination (DRE)

An examination of the prostate through the rectum. The doctor places a gloved finger in the rectum and feels the shape of the prostate. Cancer may cause irregularities

Gleason score

Used to grade prostate cancer. Low grade prostate cancer usually grows slowly and is less likely to spread. Higher grade prostate cancer (Gleason 8-10) may be more likely to grow quickly and spread to other body parts

Intermittent hormone therapy

Hormone treatment that is started and stopped in cycles. Typically, it is continued for several months until PSA has reached a low level, and then discontinued. Once the PSA level in blood rises to a particular level again (and this can take many months), hormone treatment is restarted. The main expected benefit of this approach is reduction in side effects

Laparoscopic surgery

Surgery performed using only small cuts (‘keyhole surgery’) and telescopic instruments

Localised cancer

Cancer that has not spread beyond the place where it began

Lymph nodes

Small glands which filter tissue fluid before it returns to the blood stream. This means that they often capture cancer cells which have escaped from the main tumour and have started to spread to other parts of the body

Medical oncologist

A specialist doctor who treats cancer using chemotherapy, hormone therapy< or other drugs, such as targeted therapy


Cancer has spread from the prostate and become established in a different part of the body. Prostate cancer metastases often occur in lymph glands, bone or in the lungs

Nerve-sparing operation

Prostate cancer surgery that aims to preserve the nerves needed for erections


Loss of bone density making them weaker and more likely to break. This can be a side effect of hormone therapy

Prostate Gland

Part of the male reproductive organs; lies under the bladder and surrounds the urethra. The prostate gland secretes a milky fluid that is added to semen during ejaculation

PSA – Prostate Specific Antigen

A protein produced by normal and cancerous prostate cells. Its level in the blood increases when cancer is present. It can be used as a test for prostate cancer or to monitor its recurrence

Radiation oncologist

A specialist doctor who uses X-rays and radioactive substances to diagnose and treat cancer

Radical prostatectomy

An operation that removes the prostate and seminal vesicles through a cut in the abdomen or the perineum


Regular testing for a disease when there are no symptoms present

Transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP)

Removal of part of the tissue surrounding the urethra which may be blocking the flow of urine


A specialist surgeon, who diagnoses, manages and treats diseases of the urinary tract in men and women, and the male reproductive organs

Acknowledgement: These terms and definitions were extracted from the website of the South Australian Prostate Cancer Clinical Outcomes Collaborative (SAPCOCC) –