Definition of Neoplasm

Are All Neoplasms Cancerous?

breast cancer cells
Breast cancer cells. STEVE GSCHMEISSNER/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

A neoplasm, also called a tumor, is an abnormal clump of cells in the body. While the medical term neoplasm is often used in relation to cancer, it can also refer to benign or non-cancerous health conditions. 

How Does a Neoplasm Form?

In the human body, there are trillions of normal, healthy cells. These cells grow, divide, and die in a controlled manner. But in the case of a neoplasm, the cells that make up the neoplasm do not behave and are not controlled like normal cells.

Instead, these cells live longer and divide faster, and they will continue to divide and grow if not treated.

Are all Neoplasms Cancerous?

No. Neoplasms can be cancerous — also termed malignant — or they can be non-cancerous, called benign. While benign tumors can grow large and crowd upon a person's healthy organs, they are generally not life-threatening and are usually curable. They also cannot grow into and replace healthy tissue in our body, like a malignant tumor can. Benign neoplasms also stay within their area, meaning they do not spread to more distant parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymph nodes — this process is called metastasis.

An example of a malignant neoplasm is breast cancer — an abnormal growth of cells that originates within the breast and can spread throughout the body if not treated. An example of a benign neoplasm is a fibroid in the uterus which may cause vaginal bleeding or pelvic discomfort.

While a person will eventually die of breast cancer if left untreated, a fibroid is not deadly. That being said, fibroids can cause significant bleeding or pain and so sometimes need to be removed. 

Why Do Malignant Neoplasms Form?

Cells contain genetic material called DNA and when the DNA of a cell is damaged, a healthy cell repairs it or dies.

Cancer cells, on the other hand, do not repair the DNA or die — instead, they continue to grow and divide, making more cells containing that bad DNA. 

DNA can become damaged spontaneously without a known cause, or by a known cause like sun exposure, tobacco, radiation, or certain chemicals. 

What Type of Doctor Do I See if I Have a Malignant Neoplasm?

If your doctor is suspicious for a malignant neoplasm, or you have been diagnosed with one through a tissue biopsy, you will be referred to a doctor who specializes in cancer called an oncologist


American Cancer Society. (2015). What is Cancer? Retrieved December 27th 2015. 

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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