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Published: Saturday, 2/23/2002

Cancer glossary: Antibodies to stem cells

Antibody - A soldier in the immune system, this Y-shaped protein recognizes and binds to foreign substances. Once attached to an invader, its presence signals other immune cells to come in for the kill.

Antigen - A protein that can trigger an immune attack on itself.

Ativan - The trade name of the insomnia and anti-anxiety drug lorazepam.

Cancer - Uncontrolled cell growth. Such cells are capable of infiltrating other tissues and spreading.

Chemotherapy - The treatment of disease using toxic chemical agents that attack cancer cells. Many of these drugs also have adverse effects on healthy tissue.

Colostomy - An operation in which a part of the large intestine is drawn through an incision in the abdomen and formed into an artificial opening. Feces are discharged through this opening into a bag attached to the skin.

Darvoset - The trade name for a weak narcotic painkiller.

Dose-Escalation Trial - A research trial in which drug safety is tested by giving each successive group of patients increasing doses of the medicine under investigation.

Genes - The body's inherited instruction set. Genes govern many aspects of our growth and development and transmit their information by creating proteins. Humans are believed to have between 30,000 and 60,000 genes. Genes are made of chains of nucleotides, of which there are four types - adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine. The combination of these nucleotides dictate the protein made by each gene.

Genetics - The study of genes, how they function, and what they govern.

H11 - The name Viventia Biotech Inc. of Toronto gave to an antibody it manufactures. In animal tests, H11 was effective against many types of cancer. Its efficacy in humans is under investigation.

Herceptin - The name of a breast cancer drug that won U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in 1998. Herceptin is an antibody that acts against HER2 antigens found in about 30 percent of all breast cancers.

HER2 - A protein present on the surface of about 30 percent of all breast cancers. When this protein is engaged by growth factors, it instructs the cell to divide.

Intraoperative radiation - Radiation for the treatment of cancer that's given during surgery.

Percoset - The trade name for a morphine-derived narcotic used in treatment of severe pain.

Prozac - The trade name for an antidepressant.

Protein - Complex arrangements of amino acids that do most of the work in our cells. Proteins called enzymes are involved in chemical reactions, including the work of digestion. Other proteins carry messages as hormones. Proteins combat invaders as antibodies. Still others make skin and hair, and allow muscles to contract.

Radioactive seeds - Radioactive pellets inserted directly into tumors in a procedure called brachytherapy.

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