Hammar, Samuel P. Diagnostic Specialties Laboratory, Bremerton, Washington.
Last reviewed:March 2019
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The common name for a malignant neoplasm or tumor. Cancer is a serious medical condition that develops when the orderly relationship of cell division and cell differentiation becomes disordered, leading to the development of neoplasms. Neoplasms are new growths and can be divided into benign and malignant types, although in some instances the distinction is unclear. The most important differentiating feature is that a malignant tumor (Fig. 1) will invade surrounding structures and metastasize (spread) to distant sites, whereas a benign tumor will not. Other distinctions between benign and malignant growth include the following: malignancies, but not benign types, are composed of highly atypical cells; malignancies tend to show more rapid growth than benign neoplasms, and are composed, in part, of cells showing frequent mitotic activity; and malignant tumors tend to grow progressively without self-limitation. See also: Cell differentiation; Cell division; Mitosis; Oncology; Tumor
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