A neoplasm is a lump or mass of tissue often caused by neoplasia, the abnormally rapid division and proliferation of cells. These cells do not behave like normal cells, as they usually divide at a faster rate and do not die when they are supposed to. Normally, cells undergo many processes which control their rate of growth and cell division, thus maintaining their natural size. Cells also die naturally in the process known as apoptosis. In a neoplasm, however, these processes are absent, leading to the larger than normal growth of the tissue.
The presence of this tissue does not necessarily mean cancer, as it can be benign, pre-malignant or malignant. A benign neoplasm is generally considered non-threatening, as it is frequently localized in one area and does not usually spread to other organs. If it becomes very big, however, it may cause compression on the neighboring tissues, causing symptoms to appear. An example is a myoma or a benign tumor in the uterus, which may grow as small as a grapefruit or may become as large as a full-term pregnancy. The tumor has a tendency to compress other organs, such as the bladder, leading to urinary problems.
Pre-malignant tumors do not usually cause injury or harm but have greater potential of turning into a cancer if left untreated. Some pre-malignant lesions are cervical dysplasia and Barrett's esophagus. Cervical dysplasia is a pre-malignant growth of cells in the cervix often caused by sexually transmitted diseases, such as the human papillomavirus. Barrett's esophagus is the abnormal transformation of cells in the lower part of the esophagus due to acid exposure caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Cancer, on the other hand, attacks and damages the surrounding tissues. It frequently spreads to other organs through blood circulation or the lymph nodes. Patients with cancer generally manifest with sudden loss of weight without changes in the diet, frequent fatigue, pain, and anemia, a decrease in the patient's red blood cells. A malignant neoplasm can develop in any part of the body, such as the breast, liver, colon, and prostate.
An oncologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the screening, diagnosis, management and treatment of neoplasms. Diagnosis and treatment typically depend on several factors, such as the site of the affected tissue, the type of neoplasm and the prognosis or outcome of the disease. Oncologists often request diagnostics methods to help them with their diagnosis. These include blood tests, tissue biopsy, positron emission tomography scan, single photon emission computed tomography scan and endoscopic procedures. Treatment often involves radiation therapy, palliative surgery, immunotherapy and chemotherapy.