When reading about health topics, you might come across the word “neoplasm,” which is actually another word for tumor. A tumor is a mass made up of cells that have divided abnormally. While being diagnosed with a neoplasm or tumor sounds ominous, it’s important to know that not all are cancerous.
“Tumors are growths in any part of our body,” says Xavier Llor, MD, PhD, a cancer geneticist and gastroenterologist who is the co-director of the Smilow Cancer Genetics & Prevention Program. “The body has a system of checks and balances in each of our organs that's in perfect equilibrium, but when that gets broken, a growth that is not controlled by our body can develop. Sometimes those growths are benign [noncancerous], but some will be malignant, or cancerous.”
Tumors grow in solid tissues such as organs, joints, and bones. Sometimes, you may be able to feel a tumor. Other times they are only detectable with imaging tests such as an MRI, CT scan, PET scan, endoscopy, or ultrasound. In either case, a biopsy is often needed so that it can be evaluated under a microscope to determine if it is a benign, precancerous, or malignant tumor.