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Malignancy (pronounced: /məˈlɪɡnənsi/) is a term used in medicine to describe a severe and progressively worsening disease. The term is most familiar as a description of cancer. A malignant tumor contrasts with a non-cancerous benign tumor in that a malignancy is not self-limited in its growth, is capable of invading into adjacent tissues, and may be capable of spreading to distant tissues (a process known as metastasis). Malignant tumors form a subset of neoplasms. Their non-malignant counterparts are called benign tumors.


The word "malignancy" is derived from the Latin word "malignus" which means "bad kind" or "malicious". The term was first used in the 1540s to describe a cancerous tumor.

Related Terms

  • Neoplasm: An abnormal growth of tissue which, if malignant, is referred to as cancer.
  • Metastasis: The spread of a disease from one organ or part to another non-adjacent organ or part.
  • Benign tumor: A tumor that does not form metastases, and does not invade and destroy adjacent normal tissue.
  • Cancer: A group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body.

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