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Malignant tumours are essentially more developed benign tumours. During carcinogenesis (formation of tumours) there is an accumulation of genetic and epigenetic changes in a cell's DNA due to mutations that have been acquired over time. In general, some form of neoplasia will occur when an oncogene (cancer gene) is expressed due to changes in proto-oncogenes and (normally) both tumour suppressors genes (e.g. p53) are not being properly expressed. This is what causes a large mass to form, as the cells are dividing rapidly and not undergoing apoptosis (cell suicide). A benign tumour is the aforementioned cell mass.
The continuation of mutations occurring in the cell may result in the cell gaining the capability to invade local tissues and eventually metastasise (spread to secondary sites), resulting in the presence of a malignant tumour.
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