If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a malignant neoplasm, this article can shed some light on a complicated and nuanced term. In short, a malignant neoplasm is a scientific name for a cancerous tumor. This article provides a full definition of what a malignant neoplasm is, how it forms, and what different variants exist. Of course, if you have any questions about your own or another’s health, be sure to contact your doctor as soon as possible.
What Is A Neoplasm?
A neoplasm is another word for a group of cells that grow uncontrollably and cluster together. How does that happen exactly? The human body is composed of trillions of different cells, any group of which can kick-start cancer. Usually, when the body needs new cells, existing cells divide and grow accordingly. As cells grow older or become injured, they die off, and fresh cells are formed to take over where the dead cells left off.
However, cancer throws a wrench into the normal cell forming method. Cancer causes cells to become abnormal, which results in damaged, old, or ineffective cells surviving when they should have died off instead. Additionally, cancer causes cells to divide and form new cells when the body hasn’t asked for them yet. Scientists call this process of excessive and abnormal cell growth “neoplasia.”
In this process, cells in a certain tissue grow out of control compared to the cells surrounding the tissue. In fact, they even continue to grow abnormally after someone removes the original trigger. As the cells keep dividing, they eventually form “new growths,” or what scientists call “neoplasms. “
Types of neoplasms
The word “neoplasm” comes from the Greek meaning “new form,” which makes it easier to remember what they are. They are the new clusters or growths formed by abnormal cells, or what we commonly refer to in English as a “tumor.” This word just refers to a cluster of cells that are growing uncontrollably and have formed a mass. It does not refer to anything cancerous by definition, however. There are actually three different types of neoplasms:
- Benign – A neoplasm that cannot metastasize or invade neighboring tissue. These tumors are non-cancerous.
- Precancerous – A group of abnormal cells that have a high risk of becoming cancerous. They are not cancerous yet but have the potential to be.
- Malignant – These types of neoplasms are what we commonly refer to as cancers. They can metastasize, grow continuously, and invade neighboring tissues. The field of oncology studies this unique type of tumor.
Benign and precancerous neoplasms are not, strictly speaking, cancerous. They are not continuing to divide or metastasize uncontrollably, nor are they spreading to other areas of the body. After benign neoplasms are removed, they generally don’t grow back. Sometimes, by virtue of their location, benign tumors can be life-threatening. For example, if found in the brain. Malignant neoplasms, on the other hand, are a whole different story.
How Does A Malignant Neoplasm Operate?
In the same way that neoplasm and tumor are synonymous with one another, malignant neoplasm and cancer are also synonymous and are used interchangeably with one another. But remember, although by definition all cancers are malignant neoplasms, not all neoplasms are cancerous. There are several different related diseases that exist under the umbrella of “cancer,” with minor differences between them.
In all types, however, a portion of the body’s cells start dividing uncontrollably and spread to surrounding tissues. Several types of cancers form solid tumors, masses of tissue that result from the rapid dividing of cells. Blood cancers, like leukemia, usually do not form solid masses.
Malignant tumors can invade surrounding tissues, spreading their cells over other parts of the body. Cancer cells are less specialized than normal cells are, which allows them to continue dividing. Normal cells have specific functions which they mature into. Cancer cells remain simpler, blank slates that can easily spread. Cancer cells also ignore signals that program a cell’s death, allowing them to stick around much longer than they’re supposed to.
Finally, cancer cells are also able to manipulate different parts of the body into supporting them, including blood vessels or the immune system. This allows cancerous cells to keep replenishing themselves and stick around longer, becoming problematic for the rest of your body.
How Does Cancer Spread?
Sometimes, as the tumors grow larger, certain cancerous cells might break loose and travel through either the bloodstream or the lymph system to another part of the body. Once the cells reach their new location, they may start to form new neoplastic growths. This process is called metastasis and is undertaken by metastatic cancers.
These cancers grow the same type of tumor as the original cancerous cells they first broke off from. For instance, lung cancer that spreads to the breasts and forms metastatic tumors is known as metastatic lung cancer, not breast cancer.
Types of Malignant Neoplasm
Malignant neoplasms can form anywhere in the body, and the type of cell they derive from and develop out of determines the type of cancerous tumors they become. Cancers are often named for the tissues or organs where the neoplasm develops. Accordingly, colon cancer occurs in the colon, cervical cancer forms in the cervix, and so on.
Malignant neoplasms can also be described in terms of the cells that created them, like squamous cells or epithelial cells. Although there are over 100 different types of cancers, there are several examples of some of the most common and well-known kinds that form in specific cell types.
Carcinomas as the most common type of cancer derive itself from epithelial cells. These make up our skin and the inside surfaces of the body. Many different types of carcinomas come with the various types of epithelial cells such as:
- Basal cell carcinoma – This cancer forms in the basal, or base, layer of the epidermis, or what we commonly refer to as our skin. Seen mostly in older persons, this a slow-growing carcinoma discovered primarily on the head and neck.
- Squamous cell carcinoma – Malignant neoplasm derived from squamous cells, or cells that lie just beneath the outer skin, sometimes referred to as epidermoid carcinomas. The lining of other organs, like the kidneys, bladder, intestines, lungs, and stomach situates itself on squamous cells. In contrast to a basal cell, squamous cell carcinomas spread quickly.
- Adenocarcinoma – This cancer develops within the body, in epithelial cells that produce mucus or fluids. Examples would include colon, prostate, and breast cancers.
- Transitional cell carcinoma – This carcinoma is formed in an epithelial tissue type called transitional epithelium, which is found in the linings of the ureters, bladder, part of the kidneys, and other organs. Occasionally, cancers of the ureters, bladder, and kidneys can be transitional cell carcinomas.
A malignant neoplasm derives from connective tissue cells, bone, and soft tissues. It includes any cancer that develops in muscle, blood vessels, fat, lymph vessels, tendons, or ligaments. While they can appear anywhere in your body, the malignant cells tend to show up in the arms, legs, abdomen, and chest. The most common bone cancer is osteosarcoma, while the most common soft tissue variants are liposarcomas, vascular sarcomas, and smooth muscle sarcomas.
Forged in the tissue within bone marrow that creates blood, leukemias behave a bit differently than the other malignant neoplasms covered thus far. Leukemias do not form solid masses of cell growths as most malignant neoplasms do. On the contrary, leukemia causes abnormal white blood cells to build up in large numbers inside the blood and bone marrow.
When this happens, the white blood cells evict normal blood cells from their homes. With a lower level of normal blood cells, your body can’t transport oxygen to different tissues, fight infections, or control bleeding. There are four types of leukemia, named for the type of blood cell cancer first forms in, myeloid or lymphoblastic, and chronic or acute for how quickly the disease worsens.
Lymphocytes like T cells and B cells develop aberrant malignant neoplasms known as lymphoma. These lymphocytes are white blood cells that help the body’s immune system fight off diseases. Lymphoma causes abnormal T and B cells to accrue in lymph nodes, lymph vessels, and other organs. The two types of lymphoma are Hodgkin lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Melanocytes develop cancer known as melanoma. Specialized cells make melanin, the pigment that colors our skin. The masses tend to form on the skin, but they can also form in other tissues that have pigment, like the eyes. Risk factors include dysplastic nevi, ultraviolet light exposure, and fair skin. Unfortunately, metastasis is common with melanomas.
This cancer first forms in plasma cells, also found in the immune system. Myeloma cells are abnormal units of plasma that accumulate in bone marrow and eventually form tumors all over the body.
While a malignant neoplasm may not sound like the most positive diagnosis, there are a variety of different treatment methods that can help stave it off or lessen the symptoms. New treatments discovered and tested comes very useful as possible. If you think you are developing symptoms of having a malignant neoplasm, or have any other questions, be sure to contact your doctor or health care professional as soon as possible for a professional, medical opinion.