The term tumour/tumor is derived from the Latin word for "swelling" – tumor. It is similar to the Old French tumour (contemporary French: tumeur). In the Commonwealth the spelling "tumour" is commonly used, whereas in the U.S. it is usually spelled "tumor".
In its medical sense it has traditionally meant an abnormal swelling of the flesh. The Roman medical encyclopedist Celsus (ca 30 BC–38 AD) described the four cardinal signs of acute inflammation as tumor, dolor, calor, and rubor (swelling, pain, increased heat, and redness). His treatise, De Medicina, was the first medical book printed in 1478 following the invention of the movable-type printing press.
In contemporary English, the word tumor is often used as a synonym for a cystic (liquid-filled) growth or solid neoplasm (cancerous or non-cancerous), with other forms of swelling often referred to as swellings.
Related terms are common in the medical literature, where the nouns tumefaction and tumescence (derived from the adjective tumefied), are current medical terms for non-neoplastic swelling. This type of swelling is most often caused by inflammation caused by trauma, infection, and other factors.
Tumors may be caused by conditions other than an overgrowth of neoplastic cells, however. Cysts (such as sebaceous cysts) are also referred to as tumors, even though they have no neoplastic cells. This is standard in medical billing terminology (especially when billing for a growth whose pathology has yet to be determined).
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