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Oncology-related Terms Glossary
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X-radiation (composed of X-rays) is a form of electromagnetic radiation. X-rays have a wavelength in the range of 0.01 to 10 nanometers, corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 petahertz to 30 exahertz (3 × 1016 Hz to 3 × 1019 Hz) and energies in the range 120 eV to 120 keV. They are shorter in wavelength than UV rays and longer than gamma rays. In many languages, X-radiation is called Röntgen radiation, after Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, who is generally credited as its discoverer, and who had named it X-radiation to signify an unknown type of radiation. Correct spelling of X-ray(s) in the English language includes the variants x-ray(s) and X ray(s). XRAY is used as the phonetic pronunciation for the letter x.

X-rays from about 0.12 to 12 keV (10 to 0.10 nm wavelength) are classified as "soft" X-rays, and from about 12 to 120 keV (0.10 to 0.01 nm wavelength) as "hard" X-rays, due to their penetrating abilities.

Hard X-rays can penetrate solid objects, and their most common use is to take images of the inside of objects in diagnostic radiography and crystallography. As a result, the term X-ray is metonymically used to refer to a radiographic image produced using this method, in addition to the method itself. By contrast, soft X-rays can hardly be said to penetrate matter at all; for instance, the attenuation length of 600 eV (~ 2 nm) x-rays in water is less than 1 micrometer.

The distinction between X-rays and gamma rays has changed in recent decades. Originally, the electromagnetic radiation emitted by X-ray tubes had a longer wavelength than the radiation emitted by radioactive nuclei (gamma rays). Older literature distinguished between X- and gamma radiation on the basis of wavelength, with radiation shorter than some arbitrary wavelength, such as 10−11 m, defined as gamma rays. However, as shorter wavelength continuous spectrum "X-ray" sources such as linear accelerators and longer wavelength "gamma ray" emitters were discovered, the wavelength bands largely overlapped. The two types of radiation are now usually distinguished by their origin: X-rays are emitted by electrons outside the nucleus, while gamma rays are emitted by the nucleus.

x-ray therapy

Radiation therapy (in the USA), radiation oncology, or radiotherapy (in the UK, Canada and Australia), sometimes abbreviated to XRT, is the medical use of ionizing radiation as part of cancer treatment to control malignant cells (not to be confused with radiology, the use of radiation in medical imaging and diagnosis). Radiotherapy may be used for curative or adjuvant treatment. It is used as palliative treatment (where cure is not possible and the aim is for local disease control or symptomatic relief) or as therapeutic treatment (where the therapy has survival benefit and it can be curative). Total body irradiation (TBI) is a radiotherapy technique used to prepare the body to receive a bone marrow transplant. Radiotherapy has several applications in non-malignant conditions, such as the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia, severe thyroid eye disease, pterygium, pigmented villonodular synovitis, prevention of keloid scar growth, and prevention of heterotopic ossification. The use of radiotherapy in non-malignant conditions is limited partly by worries about the risk of radiation-induced cancers.

Radiotherapy is used for the treatment of malignant cancer, and may be used as a primary or adjuvant modality. It is also common to combine radiotherapy with surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, Immunotherapy or some mixture of the four. Most common cancer types can be treated with radiotherapy in some way. The precise treatment intent (curative, adjuvant, neoadjuvant, therapeutic, or palliative) will depend on the tumor type, location, and stage, as well as the general health of the patient.

Radiation therapy is commonly applied to the cancerous tumor. The radiation fields may also include the draining lymph nodes if they are clinically or radiologically involved with tumor, or if there is thought to be a risk of subclinical malignant spread. It is necessary to include a margin of normal tissue around the tumor to allow for uncertainties in daily set-up and internal tumor motion. These uncertainties can be caused by internal movement (for example, respiration and bladder filling) and movement of external skin marks relative to the tumor position.

To spare normal tissues (such as skin or organs which radiation must pass through in order to treat the tumor), shaped radiation beams are aimed from several angles of exposure to intersect at the tumor, providing a much larger absorbed dose there than in the surrounding, healthy tissue.

Brachytherapy, in which a radiation source is placed inside or next to the area requiring treatment, is another form of radiation therapy that minimizes exposure to healthy tissue during procedures to treat cancers of the breast, prostate and other organs.


Xenotransplantation (xenos- from the Greek meaning "foreign") is the transplantation of living cells, tissues or organs from one species to another, such as from pigs to humans. Such cells, tissues or organs are called xenografts or xenotransplants. In contrast, the term allotransplantation refers to a same-species transplant. Human xenotransplantation offers a potential treatment for end-stage organ failure, a significant health problem in parts of the industrialized world. It also raises many novel medical, legal and ethical issues. A continuing concern is that pigs have shorter lifespans than humans: their tissues age at a different rate. Disease transmission (xenozoonosis) and permanent alteration to the genetic code of animals are also causes for concern. There are few published cases of successful xenotransplantation.

xeroderma pigmentosum

Xeroderma pigmentosum, or XP, is an autosomal recessive genetic disorder of DNA repair in which the ability to repair damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) light is deficient. In extreme cases all exposure to sunlight must be forbidden, no matter how small. Multiple basal cell carcinomas (basaliomas) and other skin malignancies frequently occur at a young age in those with XP. In fact, metastatic malignant melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the two most common causes of death in XP victims. thedoctorsdoctor.com reports XP involves both sexes and all races with an incidence of 1:250,000 and a gene frequency of 1:200. XP is roughly six times more common in Japanese people than in other groups.

The most common defect in xeroderma pigmentosum is an autosomal recessive genetic defect in which nucleotide excision repair (NER) enzymes are mutated, leading to a reduction in or elimination of Nucleotide Excision Repair. If left unchecked, damage caused by UV light can cause mutations in individual cell's DNA. If tumor suppressor genes (e.g. p53) or proto oncogenes are affected, the result may be cancer. Patients with XP are at a high risk for developing skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma, for this reason.

Normally, damage to DNA in epidermal cells occurs during exposure to UV light. The absorption of the high energy light leads to the formation of pyrimidine dimers, namely CPDs (cyclobutane-pyrimidine-dimers) and 6-4PPs (pyrimidine-6-4-pyrimidone photoproducts). In a healthy, normal human being, the damage is first excised, "cut out" by endonucleases. DNA polymerase then repairs the missing sequence, and ligase "seals" the transaction. This process is known as nucleotide excision repair.


Xeroradiography is a type of x-ray in which a picture of the body is recorded on paper rather than on film. In this technique, a plate of selenium, which rests on a thin layer of aluminium oxide, is charged uniformly by passing it in front of a 'scorotron'.

As X-ray photon impinges on this amorphous coat of selenium, charges diffuse out, in proportion to energy content of the X-ray. This occurs as a result of photoconduction. The resulting imprint, in the form of charge distribution on the plate, attracts toner particles, which is then transferred to reusable paper plates. In contrast to conventional X-rays, photographic developers are not needed. Hence the term xeroradiography; 'xero' meaning dry in Greek. It requires more radiation exposure. Its use is in mammography.

Xeromammography is a form of xeroradiography.


Xerostomia is the medical term for the subjective complaint of dry mouth due to a lack of saliva. Xerostomia is sometimes colloquially called pasties, cottonmouth, drooth, doughmouth or des (like a desert). Xerostomia is also common in smokers.

Xerostomia can cause difficulty in speech and eating. It also leads to halitosis and a dramatic rise in the number of cavities, as the protective effect of saliva's remineralizing the enamel is no longer present, and can make the mucosa and periodontal tissue of the mouth more vulnerable to infection. Notably, a symptom of heavy methamphetamine use usually called "meth mouth" is largely caused by xerostomia which is worsened by the fact that methamphetamine at recreational doses can cause tight clenching of the jaw, bruxism (compulsive grinding of the teeth), or a repetitive 'chewing' movement like the user is chewing without food in the mouth.

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Published - April 2011

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