Types of Neoplasm

Abnormal Cell Masses and Tumors

close up of a mole
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A neoplasm is a medical term used to describe an abnormal growth of cells in the body. While we often associate neoplasm with cancer, the word can also refer to non-cancerous growths.


In the human body, there are trillions of normal, healthy cells. These cells grow, divide, and die in a controlled manner. However, in the case of neoplasm, the cells do not act like they're supposed to. They divide and organize themselves differently and will often continue to do so unless treated or removed.

Neoplasms can be either be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign).

Types of Benign Neoplasm

While benign tumors can grow large and crowd surrounding cells and tissue, they are generally not life-threatening. They also cannot spread through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to invade normal cells like cancer (a process we refer to as metastasis).

Examples of benign neoplasm include:

  • skin moles
  • skin tags (acrochordons)
  • cysts that can form in sebaceous glands
  • breast cysts that sometimes develop during pregnancy and at other times
  • encapsulated skin growth caused by an insect bite or infection
  • the overgrowth of scar tissue (keloid)
  • muscle growth on the walls the uterus (uterine fibroids)

The fact that benign tumors are considered "harmless" doesn't mean that they can't cause problems. Fibroids, for example, can cause significant bleeding and pain that may require their removal.

Cause of Malignant Neoplasm (Cancer)

Malignant neoplasm (cancer) is most often associated with damage to a cell's DNA. This damage results in genetic mutations that not only cause abnormal cells to multiply faster but to live longer.

Certain factors can trigger these mutations, including family history, sun exposure, age, and toxic substances. The combined factors — both those we can change and those we can't — can together suggest which types of cancer we may be prone to.

Smoking, for instance, can increase a person's risk of lung cancer, while excessive alcohol use may lead to liver cirrhosis and the development of malignancies.

While we tend to think of a malignant neoplasm as a physical mass of cells, not all cancers are like this. One example is leukemia, a form of cancer that causes the production of abnormal blood cells rather than an actual tumor.

A Word From Verywell

It is important to remember that the term "neoplasm" is not synonymous with cancer. It simply relates to the abnormal growth of cells, whether it be malignant, benign, or precancerous (likely to develop into cancer).

As such, one shouldn't jump to conclusions if any tumor (or mass or nodule) is diagnosed by your doctor. There's every chance it'll be perfectly harmless. Even if it's not, many malignancies today are treatable with high rates of success.

So take our advice: if you ever do find an unusual growth on your body, contact your primary care physician as soon as possible. Depending on where the growth is, you may need to undergo a physical exam, blood tests, X-rays, or even a tissue biopsy.

After that, if anything looks suspicious, you'll at least have the opportunity to get it diagnosed and treated early when success rates are highest. Early intervention is key.