Cancer Glossary

The following are common terms that you may need to know when talking about cancer or going through a cancer journey.


A caregiver is defined as a spouse, adult child, other family member or friend who provides unpaid care to someone living with cancer, allowing them to remain in their home and community.

Cancer journey

The cancer journey is the full experience of cancer in all its stages, either first-hand or through a loved one.

Carcinogen A carcinogen is any substance, which can directly cause cancer.

Circle of care

The circle of care is a model where the patient is at the center of care and a team of health professionals works collaboratively toward the patient’s holistic health and wellness.

Commercial tobacco use

Commercial tobacco use is the use of tobacco as a drug that causes damage to your health over time, including smoking cigarettes or using chew.

Community health representative

A community health representative is a community member who links the community with the formal health system through the delivery of health promotion, treatment, and surveillance programs.

Continuum of care

The continuum of care is a concept to describe the delivery of health services throughout all stages of an illness from diagnosis to the end of life.

End-of-life care

End-of-life care is a range of clinical and support services with the focus on relieving suffering, ensuring respect, and maximizing quality of life for the patient who is dying, their family, and loved ones.

Fecal immunochemical test

The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is a simple stool test that is used as the primary colorectal cancer screening test in the Northwest Territories for individuals aged 50-74 years who are at average risk of the disease. The test is available in all health centers, can be done at home, and does not have any dietary restrictions.


Genes are instructions that tell our body how to function. Some of our genes are shared between family members. Shared genes are what cause physical and behavioural similarities between family members.

Heavy drinking

Heavy drinking is defined as the consumption of five or more drinks in a single sitting at least once a month for the past 12 months.

Holistic care

Holistic care focuses on all aspects of an individual’s life, including his or her physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs. Healing the person as a whole is the goal of holistic care.

Home support workers

Home support workers are community-based workers who provide support services to patients in their homes and collaborate with community health representatives.


Cancer incidence refers to the number of new cancers that occur in a specific population in one year. Cancer incidence is usually expressed as the number of cancers per 100,000 individuals at risk in the population.

Lymph node

A lymph node is an organ in the body’s immune system that contains cells responsible for fighting disease and infections. Lymph nodes can be found in many locations of the body.


A mammogram is a specialized x-ray of the breast that is used as the primary breast cancer screening test in the Northwest Territories for women aged 50-74 years who are at average risk of the disease. Mammograms are available in Yellowknife, Hay River, and Inuvik.

Mortality rate

A cancer mortality rate is the number of deaths due to cancer that occurs in a specific population in one year. Cancer mortality is usually expressed as the number of deaths due to cancer per 100,000 individuals in the population.

Negative diagnosis

A negative diagnosis concludes the absence of cancer.

NWT Cancer Registry

The NWT Cancer Registry is the collection of data on tumours and cancer screening tests among NWT residents. It is an important tool for evidence-based, data-driven decision-making.


An oncologist is a doctor who is an expert in cancer knowledge and treatment.


Oncology is the field of study and medicine devoted to cancer.


Organic farming is a form of agriculture that does not rely on pesticides and other chemicals to grow food.

Palliative care approach

The World Health Organization defines palliative care as an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing life-limiting illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering and pain, and other physical, psychosocial, and spiritual challenges. Palliative care includes, but is not limited to, end-of-life care.

Papanicolaou test

A Papanicolaou (Pap) test is used as the primary cervical cancer screening test in the Northwest Territories. Women should have an annual Pap test starting at age 21 years or three years after becoming sexually active, whichever comes earlier. Following three consecutive tests with normal results, the Pap test can be taken every two years.

Positive diagnosis

A positive diagnosis indicates the presence of cancer.

Primary prevention

Primary prevention of disease includes actions to reduce or avoid disease before it occurs. Examples of primary prevention include maintaining a healthy diet, exercise, not smoking, and immunization.

Risk factor

A risk factor is any behaviour or thing that increases the likelihood of developing a disease. Risk factors that we can control, such as smoking and exercise, are referred to as modifiable risk factors.


Cancer screening involves simple tests that are used to find early signs of cancer. Screening is for healthy people who do not have any symptoms of illness.

Secondary prevention

Secondary prevention of disease includes actions to detect and treat a disease early, prior to the appearance of symptoms. Cancer screening is an example of secondary prevention.


Self-advocacy is a term to describe the actions of individuals or groups to represent their own needs or interests.

Social determinants of health

The social determinants of health are the economic and social conditions that influence the health of individuals or groups.

Social marketing

Social marketing is an approach to develop activities that aim to change or maintain certain behaviours for improved health of individuals and communities.


Staging is a term that describes the measurement of the development of cancer.

Survivorship care

Survivorship care involves regular medical check-ups to identify and monitor changes in a person’s physical and psychosocial health after completing cancer treatment. Survivorship care may also be called follow-up care, after care, or discharge care.

Tertiary prevention

Tertiary prevention of disease includes actions to reduce the damage of disease through rehabilitation and treatment. Surgery and palliative care are examples of tertiary prevention.

TNM staging

TNM staging describes different kinds of tumours. Letters and numbers are used to describe the type of cancer in detail.

Traditional medicine

The World Health Organization defines traditional medicine as the sum of knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences of Indigenous cultures that are used to maintain health and treat illness.

Traditional tobacco use

Traditional tobacco use is the use of tobacco as part of ceremony or other sacred, healing practices part of certain Indigenous cultures. When tobacco is used in this way, people are exposed to very little smoke.