The terms 'tumour' and 'neoplasm' are often used interchangeably to describe an abnormal mass of tissue that results from excessive cell proliferation. The term tumour has its origins in the Latin word tumere, meaning 'to swell' and is used to describe an abnormal mass of tissue with no useful bodily function. Neoplasm comes from the Ancient Greek neo (new) and plasma (formation) and refers to the pathological formation and growth of abnormal tissue. Both of these terms may be used to describe and classify either a benign or a malignant growth.7
A benign growth does not usually threaten life unless it interferes with vital structures, tissues or organs. Benign growths are generally composed of masses of cells that closely resemble the normal cells composing the tissue in which they are found. Benign tumours perform no useful bodily function and treatment or removal is usually curative.10, 11
A malignant growth is composed of cells of atypical structure and function when compared to the healthy cells surrounding them. A malignant tumour, reflecting the Latin origin of the term malignans, meaning to be wicked or to act maliciously, is capable of invading other tissues and, if untreated, usually results in death. Thus, cancer is a malignant disease and the masses of abnormal cells that form a cancer may be termed a malignant tumour or malignant neoplasm.10, 11
Access a current text and construct a table that compares and contrasts the characteristics of benign and malignant tumours.
Develop an evidence based response for a person affected by benign brain tumour who asks the following two questions:
- Do I have cancer?
- Seeing as the tumour is not malignant does that mean I will be ok?