A tumor is a mass or lump of tissue in an organ. In a healthy body, cells grow, divide, and are replaced by new cells. In the case of a tumor, the rate of cell multiplication is more than cell destruction. The word tumor is often associated with cancer; however, not all tumors are cancerous. Tumors can vary in size from a tiny nodule to a large mass, depending on their type. They can appear almost anywhere on the body. All tumors need to be evaluated by a doctor, even if it does not look serious. This would help in early diagnosis and treatment, increasing the chances of complete cure.
These tumors are not cancerous. They are localized with well-defined markings. Most of them are harmless and may not need immediate intervention. They grow slowly and do not spread to other sites. However, they can produce pressure symptoms, which can cause discomfort, or they can be unappealing cosmetically. They can be locally invasive or apply pressure on surrounding structures. Once surgically removed, they generally do not recur at the same place. Rarely, benign tumors may turn malignant.
Common benign tumors include:
- Adenomas: Adenomas develop from glandular epithelial tissue that covers the glands, organs, and other structures in the body. Examples include polyps in the colon, fiber adenoma in the breast, hepatic (liver) adenoma. There is a small risk of some adenomas becoming cancerous; this is called adenocarcinoma.
- Fibroids or fibromas: These are benign tumors that arise from fibrous or connective tissue anywhere in the body. Examples include uterine fibroids in the uterus and angiofibroma (appear as small red bumps on the face). Fibroids may need to be surgically removed if they cause symptoms. Rarely, fibroids can become cancerous; this is called fibrosarcoma.
- Hemangiomas: Hemangiomas are benign tumors that arise when blood vessels grow excessively. They can develop inside the body or on the skin. They usually appear as red “strawberry marks” on the skin. They are often present at birth and may disappear with age. Laser surgery may be done if they don’t disappear on their own.
- Lipomas: Lipomas are quite common benign tumors commonly affecting people aged 40-60 years but can occur at any age. Lipomas are painless, rubbery, soft to the touch, and movable. They can vary in size but are generally small and may be seen in different parts of the body. They are commonly seen on the back, shoulders, arms, buttocks, and thighs. There are different types of lipoma, such as fibrolipoma (contain fat cells and fibrous connective tissue) and angiolipomas (appear under the skin).
Premalignant lesions or tumors
These are tumors that have not turned cancerous but have the potential to become cancerous/malignant. It requires close monitoring and treatment to prevent malignancy.
Common premalignant tumors include:
- Actinic keratosis or solar keratosis: This growth involves patches of crusty, scaly, and thick skin. It is mostly seen on the scalp or sun-exposed areas. Actinic keratosis can transform into squamous cell carcinoma.
- Cervical dysplasia: These changes occur in the lining of the cervix (mouth of the womb). It can cause cervical cancer.
- Metaplasia of the lung: These are growths in the bronchi (tubes that carry air into the lungs). These are seen in smokers and can become cancer.
- Leukoplakia: This presents with thick, white patches in the mouth that can lead to oral cancer.
Malignant tumors are cancerous. The tumor grows rapidly, invades surrounding structures, and can spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).
- Carcinoma: These tumors arise from epithelial cells, which are present in the skin and the lining of the body’s organs. They are the most common type of malignant tumor.
- Sarcoma: These tumors arise from connective tissue, such as cartilage, bones (but not the bone marrow), fat, and nerves.
- Germ cell tumor: These tumors develop in the cells that produce sperm and eggs. Hence, they are commonly seen in the ovaries and testicles.
- Blastoma: These tumors arise from the developing cells. They are more common in children than in adults. They occur in the eyes, brain, or nervous system.
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American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). What is Cancer? https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/cancer-basics/what-cancer