New tip sheet provides glossary of cancer-related abbreviations


cervical cancer cells
Cervical cancer cells. Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
Having now covered a number of medical conferences related to cancer, I continually find myself looking up the same acronyms and abbreviations again and again to remind myself what they mean. There are a lot of them in cancer research. Certain abbreviations are common enough that I immediately recognize them, such as OS (overall survival), PFS (progression-free survival) and NED (no evidence of disease). Others I recognize because of their use in other studies (e.g., IRB for Institutional Review Board), because they’re common procedures (e.g., ECG for electrocardiogram), or because they are the name of a cancer (CRC for colorectal cancer) or another condition (UTI for urinary tract infection).

But so many abbreviations, even ones I may have seen a dozen times, catch me off guard because it’s been a while since I covered cancer. To that end, I’ve gone through a bunch of online glossaries of cancer acronyms and pulled the ones I found to occur most frequently.

Those have now been compiled into a comprehensive tip sheet you can access in the Medical Studies Core Topic.

To give you a sense of the abbreviations that appear on it, I’ve provided three shorter lists of abbreviations below, one for cancer types, one for terms specific to cancer and one of common terms used in studies more broadly, whether in oncology or other fields. I’ve also included my sources at the bottom for those who want the comprehensive glossaries.

Cancer types

  • ABC — advanced breast cancer
  • ALCL — anaplastic large-cell lymphoma
  • ALL — acute lymphoblastic leukemia
  • AMKL — acute megakaryocytic leukemia
  • AML — acute myeloid leukemia
  • ANLL — acute non-lymphocytic leukemia
  • B-ALL — B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia
  • BCC — basal cell carcinoma
  • CLL — chronic lymphocytic Leukemia
  • CMML — chronic myelomonocytic leukemia
  • CRC — colorectal carcinoma/cancer
  • CUP — cancer of unknown primary/carcinoma of unknown primary
  • DCIS — ductal carcinoma in situ, a type of breast cancer
  • HCC — hepatocellular carcinoma
  • HD — Hodgkin’s disease (lymphoma)
  • HNSCC — head and neck squamous cell carcinoma
  • HNPCC — hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer
  • LCIS — lobular carcinoma in situ, a type of breast cancer
  • MDS — myelodysplastic syndrome
  • MM — malignant melanoma or multiple myeloma
  • NHL — non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • NSCLC — non-small cell lung cancerSCC — squamous cell carcinoma
  • SCLC — small cell lung cancer

Specific to cancer

  • CAR-T — chimeric antigen receptors and T cells
  • CCR — continuous complete remission
  • CR — complete remission / complete response
  • DFI — disease-free interval
  • DFS — disease-free survival; time without disease prior to relapse or last follow-up
  • EFS — event-free survival; time from diagnosis to defined events (eg relapse or death)
  • NED — no evidence of disease
  • PD — progressive disease
  • OS — overall survival
  • PFS — progression Free Survival
  • PSA — prostate-specific antigen, the PSA test used in screening for prostate cancer
  • RFS — relapse-free survival; time from diagnosis to relapse or death
  • PR — partial response, partial remission
  • TTP — time to progression
  • SD — stable disease

General study abbreviations

  • AE — adverse event
  • AUC — area under the curve
  • CHF — congestive heart failure
  • CI — confidence interval
  • CNS — central nervous system – the brain and spine
  • CMV — cytomegalovirus
  • FBC — full blood count
  • EBV — Epstein-Barr virus
  • EHR — electronic health record
  • EMR — electronic medical record
  • FU — follow up
  • Hb — hemoglobin
  • HPV — human papillomavirus, implicated in five types of cancers
  • IRB — Institutional Review Board
  • ITT — intent to treat
  • MI — myocardial infarction
  • MTX — methotrexate (chemotherapy drug)
  • N/V — nausea and vomiting
  • NOS — not otherwise specified
  • PET — positron emission tomography, a scan after a small radioactive injection
  • PRO — patient-reported outcomes
  • QALY — quality-adjusted life year
  • QI — quality improvement
  • QoL — quality of lifeRBC — red blood cell/red blood count
  • SAE — serious adverse event
  • SD — standard deviation
  • SOC — standard of care
  • TAAE — treatment associated adverse event
  • TNF — tumor necrosis factor
  • UA — urine analysis
  • UADR — unexpected adverse drug reaction
  • URTI — upper respiratory tract infection
  • US — ultrasound (scan)
  • UTI — urinary tract infection
  • WBC — white blood cell count


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Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle is AHCJ’s health beat leader on infectious disease and formerly led the medical studies health beat. She’s the author of “Vaccination Investigation” and “The Informed Parent.”