What is a Tumor?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 May 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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A tumor is a mass in the body caused by uncontrolled cell division which results in abnormal tissue growth. Tumors can arise anywhere, and they are caused by a wide variety of factors. When a tumor is identified, a doctor usually requests a biopsy so that the tissue can be examined to determine whether or not it is malignant, as malignancy is a key issue to consider when developing a treatment plan.

Tumors arise when a genetic defect causes cells to start rapidly multiplying, with no check on cell division. These defects can be inherited or acquired, as for example through exposure to mutagenic chemicals, or to a freak accident in routine cell division. The term “tumor” comes from a Latin word which means “swelling,” referring to the fact that tumors cause noticeable swellings which can be seen or palpated.

Doctors may also refer to tumors as “neoplasms.” Originally, the term “tumor” referred to any sort of swelling, such as a swelling caused by a buildup of pus as a result of infection, while “neoplasm” was used specifically to describe a swelling caused by abnormal cell growth. Over time, the two terms came to be synonymous. Readers should take note that “tumor” is also seen spelled as “tumour” in Britain and Canada.


Doctors generally divide tumors into two categories: malignant and benign. A malignant tumor is a tumor which has the potential to cause health problems by cutting off the supply of blood to a particular region, colonizing surrounding organs, or spreading to other parts of the body. A benign tumor, by contrast, grows slowly and poses no immediate health threat. The term “pre-malignant” is also used, to describe a tumor which has the capacity to become malignant. Cancerous tumors are classified as malignant.

When a tumor is biopsied, a sample can be taken with a needle or a scalpel and examined under a microscope. The technician then grades the tumor, looking at the size and the potential to spread. Low grade tumors are typically benign, and of low concern, while high grade tumors require medical action. The most classic response to a malignant tumor is to remove it, and the patient may also be given chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments to prevent the recurrence of the tumor, along with follow-up care for life which includes a regular examination of the area to confirm that the tumor has not appeared again. Benign tumors may also be removed for cosmetic reasons.



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Post 1

This article helped a lot. My mom was just diagnosed with a tumor, but nothing else was said, just that they need to remove it. we are waiting for the biopsy results.

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