Glossary of Molecular Biology in Cancer

Learning objectives

The aim of the ESMO Glossary of Molecular Biology in Cancer (published in 2012) is to serve as an aid to practicing oncologists while they are acquiring knowledge and developing an awareness and appreciation of the molecular processes underlying the development of cancer.

The second goal is to help them to understand the basic requirements for the common laboratory techniques used to demonstrate molecular features of malignancy when critically evaluating and interpreting research findings.

The ultimate goal of this Glossary is to develop a common terminology and to enable oncology practitioners to speak the same language with basic scientists and translational researchers when analysing research findings and translating cancer biology to cancer medicine.

Target audience

The Glossary is dedicated to all oncologists keen to keep abreast of the latest advances in knowledge of the molecular biology of cancer.


In developing this Glossary, the ESMO Translational Research Working Group considered a review of a previous ESMO document, the Glossary of Molecular Biology in Cancer, as a priority. The first edition was produced more than a decade ago on the occasion of an ESMO educational course. The aim was to enhance the understanding of attendees in a difficult area for most clinicians. In the meantime, the field of cancer biology has become increasingly important and new complex terms and knowledge have emerged.

Therefore, the members of the ESMO Translational Research Working Group have revised the textual content of the previous Glossary, basically the definitions of terms ordered from A to Z. During the revision process, the question of having more incentives from such a publication was raised, and the idea of adding images illustrative of the terms was born. Images for certain terms have been selected with permission from the respective journals where they were initially published. In addition, Translational Research Working Group members wished to see incentives beyond classical reading and suggested accompanying each selected term by an image consisting of two panes, one of the structure of the Gene, and the second of its network.

How to use the ESMO Glossary of Molecular Biology in Cancer

This Glossary explains scientific terms in a narrative way in alphabetical order. The explanations concern common terminologies that can be associated with different types of cancer. For selected numbers of terms, images with exact gene structures and/or signalling pathways accompany the text.

The booklet was printed in a limited number of copies and available to download on OncologyPRO. All images from the Glossary are also available in slide resources. You will also find below a web version of this document.

Contributing members of the ESMO Translational Research Working Group

View the declarations of interest


We would like to thank Dr Teresa Troiani for her assistance in the selection of images; Yosef Yarden, PhD, for ideas pairing the structure of the gene with its mechanistic network; Mr Andrea Norsa for the cover page design, which is a redesigned image of the structure of Src, published in the ESMO flagship journal Annals of Oncology; and Dr Svetlana Jezdic, Mrs Claire Bramley, and Keith McGregor, PhD, for their assistance in the editorial process. An online glossary prepared by the Journal of Clinical Oncology was consulted during the revision process.