What are benign tumors?
Benign tumors are
noncancerous growths in the body. Unlike cancerous tumors, they don’t spread (metastasize)
to other parts of the body.
Benign tumors can form
anywhere. If you discover a lump or mass in your body that can be felt from the
outside, you might immediately assume it is cancerous. For instance, women who
find lumps in their breasts during self-examinations are often alarmed.
However, most breast growths are benign. In fact, many growths throughout the
body are benign.
Benign growths are extremely
common, with 9
out of 10 women showing benign breast tissue
changes. Benign bone tumors, similarly, have a higher prevalence than malignant
Causes of benign tumors
The exact cause of a benign
tumor is often unknown. It develops when cells in the body divide and grow at
an excessive rate. Typically, the body is able to balance cell growth and
division. When old or damaged cells die, they are automatically replaced with
new, healthy cells. In the case of tumors, dead cells remain and form a growth
known as a tumor.
Cancer cells grow in the same
manner. However, unlike the cells in benign tumors, cancerous cells can invade
nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
Types of benign tumors
There are a fair
number of benign tumors that can develop in different parts of the body.
Benign tumors are classified
by where they grow. Lipomas, for example, grow from fat cells, while myomas
grow from muscle. Different types of benign tumors are included below:
- Adenomas form in the thin layer of tissue that covers glands,
organs, and other internal structures. Examples include polyps that form in the
colon or growths on the liver.
- Lipomas grow from fat cells and are the
most common type of benign tumor, according
to the Cleveland Clinic. They are often found on the back, arms, or neck. They
are usually soft and round, and can be moved slightly under the skin.
- Myomas grow from muscle or in the walls of blood vessels. They
can also grow in smooth muscle, like the kind found inside organs such as the
uterus or stomach.
- Nevi are also known as moles. These are noncancerous growths on
the skin and they are very common.
- Fibroids, or fibromas, can grow in the fibrous tissue found in
any organ. They are most common in the uterus, where they are known as uterine
In many cases, benign tumors
will be monitored carefully. Noncancerous moles or colon polyps, for example,
can turn into cancer at a later time. Some types of internal benign tumors may
cause other problems. Uterine fibroids can cause pelvic pain and abnormal
bleeding, and some internal tumors may restrict a blood vessel or cause pain by
pressing on a nerve.
Anyone can develop a benign
tumor, including children, though adults are more likely to develop them with
Symptoms of benign tumors
Not all tumors, cancerous or
benign, have symptoms.
Depending on the tumor’s
location, numerous symptoms could affect the function of important organs or
the senses. For example, if you have a benign brain tumor, you may experience
headaches, vision trouble, and fuzzy memory.
If the tumor is close to the
skin or in an area of soft tissue such as the abdomen, the mass may be felt by
Depending on the location,
possible symptoms of a benign tumor include:
- discomfort or pain
- loss of appetite
- night sweats
- weight loss
Benign tumors may be large
enough to detect, particularly if they’re close to the skin. However, most
aren’t large enough to cause discomfort or pain. They can be removed if they
are. Lipomas, for example, may be large enough to detect, but are generally
soft, movable, and painless. Some skin discoloration may be evident in the case
of benign tumors that appear on the skin, such as nevi. Anything that looks
abnormal should be evaluated by a doctor.
Diagnosis of benign tumors
Doctors use a variety of
techniques to diagnose benign tumors. The key in diagnosis is determining if a
tumor is benign or malignant. Only laboratory tests can determine this with
Your doctor may begin by performing
a physical examination and collecting your medical history. They’ll also ask
you about the symptoms you’re experiencing.
Many internal benign tumors
are found and located by imaging tests, including:
- CT scans
- MRI scans
Benign tumors often have a
visual border of a protective sac that helps doctors diagnose them as benign.
Your doctor may also order blood tests to check for the presence of cancer markers.
In other cases, doctors will
take a biopsy of the tumor to determine whether it’s benign or malignant. The
biopsy will be more or less invasive depending on the tumor’s location. Skin
tumors are easy to remove and only require a local anesthetic, while colon
polyps would require a colonoscopy, for example, and a stomach tumor may
require an endoscopy.
Treatment of benign tumors
Not all benign tumors need
treatment. If your tumor is small and isn’t causing any symptoms, your doctor
may recommend taking a watch-and-wait approach. In these cases, treatment could
be riskier than letting the tumor be. Some tumors will never need treatment.
If your doctor decides to
pursue treatment, the specific treatment will depend on the location of the
tumor. It may be removed for cosmetic reasons if, for example, it’s located on
the face or neck. Other tumors that affect organs, nerves, or blood vessels are
commonly removed with surgery to prevent further problems.
Tumor surgery is often done
using endoscopic techniques, meaning the instruments are contained in tube-like
devices. This technique requires smaller surgical incisions, if any at all, and
less healing time.
Procedures like upper
endoscopies and colonoscopies require almost no recovery time, though patients
need someone to take them home and will likely sleep for the rest of the day.
Skin tumor biopsies take a few weeks to fully heal and require basic recovery
procedures like changing the bandage and keeping it covered. The more invasive
the treatment, the more recovery time will be needed. Recovery from a benign
brain tumor removal, for example, can take longer. Even once it’s removed, you
may need speech therapy, occupational therapy, or physiotherapy to address problems
the tumor left behind.
If surgery can’t safely
access your tumor, your doctor may prescribe radiation therapy to help reduce its
size or prevent it from growing larger.
While maintaining a healthy
lifestyle, exercising, and eating a balanced diet can prevent health problems
including some types of cancers, there aren’t natural or alternative remedies for
benign tumors on their own.
Living and coping with benign tumors
Many benign tumors can be
left alone if they show no symptoms and create no complications. You’ll be told
to simply keep an eye on it and watch for changes.
If you don’t have your tumor
removed, your doctor may have you come in for routine examinations or imaging
scans to ensure that the tumor isn’t growing larger.
As long as the tumor isn’t
causing you pain or discomfort, and it isn’t changing or growing, you can live
with a benign tumor indefinitely.
When to see your doctor
While many growths
and tumors will turn out to be benign, it’s still always a good idea to make an
appointment with your doctor as soon as you detect a growth or new symptoms
that could indicate a tumor. This includes skin lesions or unusual-looking moles.
It’s also important to make
an appointment with your doctor if you notice any changes in a tumor that was
previously diagnosed as benign, including growth or a change in symptoms. Some
types of benign tumors can become cancerous over time, and early detection can
make all the difference.