Malignant Neoplasm

Malignant neoplasms are cancerous tumors. They develop when cells grow and divide more than they should. Malignant neoplasms can spread to nearby tissues and to distant parts of your body. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Early detection is key, so be sure to attend all recommended cancer screenings.


Malignant neoplasms spread and invade nearby tissues.
Malignant neoplasms spread and invade nearby tissues.

What is a malignant neoplasm?

A malignant neoplasm (NEE-oh-plaz-um) is another term for a cancerous tumor. The term “neoplasm” refers to an abnormal growth of tissue. The term “malignant” means the tumor is cancerous and is likely to spread (metastasize) beyond its point of origin.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

What is the difference between neoplasm and cancer?

A neoplasm is an abnormal growth of tissue that can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Benign tumors (noncancerous neoplasms) usually grow slowly and don’t spread. However, malignant tumors (cancerous neoplasms) usually grow rapidly and invade other parts of your body.

Does malignant neoplasm mean cancer?

Yes. Malignant neoplasms are cancerous but benign neoplasms are noncancerous.


Who does malignant neoplasm affect?

Malignant neoplasms — like most cancers — are most likely to affect people who are over the age of 65. But this disease can occur in people of all ages.

What are the types of malignant neoplasms?

Malignant neoplasms can develop anywhere in your body. There are five main types of malignant neoplasms (cancers), including:

  • Carcinomas. Making up about 90% of all cancer cases, carcinomas originate in your epithelial (eh-puh-THEE-lee-uhl) tissue, such as the skin or linings of your organs. Common carcinomas include malignant neoplasms of your skin, breast, prostate, bladder, cervix, endometrium (lining of your uterus), lung, colon and rectum.
  • Sarcomas. This type of cancer begins in your connective tissues, like your bones, cartilage, muscle, tendons and fat. Unlike many other types of cancer, sarcomas are more common in young adults. The most common type of sarcoma is soft tissue sarcoma.
  • Myelomas. Also called multiple myeloma, this type of cancer forms in the plasma cells (immune cells) of your bone marrow. The two main types of myelomas are smoldering (early, precancerous stage) and active (cancerous stage).
  • Leukemias. Also called blood cancers, leukemias are cancers of bone marrow. This disease is often associated with the overproduction of immature blood cells, which leads to anemia, fatigue and blood clotting problems.
  • Lymphomas. This type of cancer develops in the glands or nodes of your lymphatic system. Lymphomas can occur anywhere in your body, but they’re most commonly felt as lumps in your neck, underarm or groin areas.

Sometimes, malignant neoplasms can metastasize (spread) to your brain. The most common cancers that can spread to your brain include cancers of your breast, skin (melanoma), lung, colon and kidney. Malignant neoplasms of your brain (metastatic brain tumors) are rare, affecting less than 1% of the U.S. population.


Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of malignant neoplasm?

People with malignant neoplasms usually have varying symptoms depending on where the tumor is located. For example, someone with malignant neoplasm of their breast may notice breast pain or abnormal nipple discharge. People with malignant neoplasm of their colon might have abdominal pain or notice changes in their stool (poop). Those with malignant neoplasm of the skin may develop sores or lesions on their skin.

There are also general symptoms that people with cancerous tumors may experience, including:

What causes malignant neoplasm?

We know that malignant neoplasms form when cells grow and divide faster than they should. But experts don’t know why this happens in the first place. But there are certain risk factors associated with malignant neoplasms, including:

  • Smoking.
  • Genetics.
  • Obesity.
  • Excessive alcohol use.
  • Chemical toxins.
  • Excessive exposure to radiation.
  • Excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays.

How do malignant neoplasms spread?

Cancer cells can break away from their point of origin, travel through your blood or lymph system and form new tumors in other areas of your body. This is called metastasis.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is malignant neoplasm diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may suspect cancer after performing a routine test, such as a mammogram or colonoscopy. In most cases, a biopsy is needed to determine if the tumor is benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Your healthcare provider may also take imaging tests, such as MRI, CT scans or PET scans.

Management and Treatment

How is malignant neoplasm treated?

Treatment depends on the type and size of the tumor and whether it has spread to other areas of your body. If the malignant neoplasm is localized to one area, surgery may be an option. If the cancer has spread, then your healthcare provider may recommend chemotherapy, radiation therapy or targeted drug therapy.


If the tumor is small and still contained to one area, surgical removal may be possible. Your surgeon will remove the entire mass, as well as some healthy tissue around it. Surgery usually isn’t an option if the cancer has spread to other areas of your body.


Cancer-killing drugs are given, either in pill form or through an IV line in your arm or hand. Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells and keeps them from multiplying. It’s used to treat both primary cancer (which hasnt spread to other areas) and metastatic cancer (which has spread to other areas). Chemotherapy may be used alone or in conjunction with other treatments, such as surgery or radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses strong beams of energy to destroy cancer cells. During this procedure, high-energy radiation is directed at the tumor — and the machine can be repositioned to aim at different levels. Sometimes, radiation therapy is used before surgery to shrink a tumor. It can also be used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Targeted drug therapy

Targeted therapy attacks proteins that control how cancer cells grow, divide and spread. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved targeted therapies for more than 15 different types of cancer, including lung, breast, colon and prostate. Targeted drug therapy is often combined with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

What are the complications of treatment for malignant neoplasm?

If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, you’ll likely have some side effects. These side effects can vary depending on the type of treatment you’re receiving and how your body responds to it. General side effects or complications may include:

How long does it take to recover from this treatment?

Recovery times vary considerably for each person. Depending on your circumstances, it may take several months to several years to recover after cancer treatment.


Can I prevent malignant neoplasm?

There’s no way to prevent malignant neoplasms altogether, but there are certain things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Protect your skin when you go outside.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating well and exercising often.
  • Attend all routine cancer screenings, such as colonoscopies and mammograms.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have malignant neoplasm?

If you’ve been diagnosed with malignant neoplasm, your healthcare provider will work with you to determine an appropriate course of action. Treatment options will depend on several factors, including what type of cancer you have, whether it’s spread, your health history and your personal preferences.

Is malignant neoplasm curable?

Many types of malignant neoplasms can be cured or managed successfully with proper treatment. The sooner a tumor is detected, the more effectively it can be treated. So, early diagnosis is key.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Any time you notice troubling symptoms — such as pain, abnormal lumps or unexplained weight loss — schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can run tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.

If you’re currently undergoing treatment for malignant neoplasm, call your healthcare provider any time you develop severe pain or new symptoms.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

Understanding everything you can about your diagnosis can help you make informed decisions about your long-term health. If you’ve been diagnosed with malignant neoplasm, here are some questions to consider asking your healthcare provider:

  • What type of malignant neoplasm do I have?
  • Where is the tumor located?
  • Has the tumor spread?
  • What stage disease do I have?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • Will I be able to work or go to school while undergoing treatment?
  • How long will my treatment take?
  • What is the survival rate for people with my condition?
  • Are there additional resources I can explore?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Being diagnosed with a malignant neoplasm can be quite frightening. These tumors can grow rapidly and spread quickly. So, the sooner you begin treatment, the better. The good news is that many types of malignant neoplasms can be successfully managed. In addition to working with your oncologist (a doctor who treats cancer), you may want to talk to a social worker or counselor who can help you sort through the emotional aspect of your diagnosis. Many people also find immense value in support groups. Talking with others who’re going through the same thing can be beneficial for your mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/01/2022.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Cancer Answer Line 866.223.8100