A tumor or tumour is commonly used as a synonym for a neoplasm (a solid or fluid-filled (cystic) lesion that may or may not be formed by an abnormal growth of neoplastic cells) that appears enlarged in size. Tumor is not synonymous with cancer. While cancer is by definition malignant, a tumor can be benign, pre-malignant, or malignant, or can represent a lesion with no cancerous potential whatsoever.
A neoplasm can be caused an abnormal proliferation of tissues, which can be caused by genetic mutations. Not all types of neoplasms cause a tumorous overgrowth of tissue, however (such as leukemia or carcinoma in situ).
Benign conditions that are not associated with an abnormal proliferation of tissue (such as sebaceous cysts) can also present as tumors, however, but have no malignant potential. Breasts cysts (as occur commonly during pregnancy and at other times) are another example, as are other encapsulated glandular swellings (thyroid, adrenal gland, pancreas).
Encapsulated hematomas, encapsulated necrotic tissue (from an insect bite, foreign body, or other noxious mechanism), and keloids and granulomas (discrete overgrowths of scar tissue) may also present as tumors.
Discrete localized enlargements of normal structures (ureters, blood vessels, intrahepatic or extrahepatic biliary ducts, pulmonary inclusions, or gastrointestinal duplications) due to outflow obstructions or narrowings, or abnormal connections, may also present as a tumor. Examples are arteriovenous fistulae or aneurysms (with or without thrombosis), biliary fistulae or aneurysms, sclerosing cholangitis, cysticercosis or hydatid cysts, intestinal duplications, and pulmonary inclusions as seen with cystic fibrosis. It can be dangerous to biopsy a number of types of tumor in which the leakage of their contents would potentially be catastrophic. When such types of tumors are encountered, diagnostic modalities such as ultrasound, CT scans, MRI, angiograms, and nuclear medicine scans are employed prior to (or during) biopsy and/or surgical exploration/excision in an attempt to avoid to avoid such complications.
The nature of a tumor is determined by imaging, by surgical exploration, and/or by a pathologist after examination of the tissue from a biopsy or a surgical specimen