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 in the
body. 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.
Causes of Benign Tumors
The exact cause of a benign tumor is
often unknown. A benign tumor 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, these 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,
but unlike the cells in benign tumors, cancerous cells can invade nearby tissue
and spread to other parts of the body.
Symptoms of Benign Tumors
Not all tumors, cancerous or benign, show
Depending on the location of the
tumor, 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, fuzzy memory, and more.
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 touch.
Depending on the location, possible
symptoms of a benign tumor include:
- discomfort or
- loss of
- night sweats
- weight loss
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 tests in a laboratory 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.
The first diagnostic steps your doctor
may take include ordering imaging tests so they can have the best view of the
inside of your body. These help your doctor view the entirety of the tumor and
the affected area. Imaging tests to screen tumors include:
- Ultrasound: This test uses sound
waves to determine if a mass is solid or liquid. It is the same technology used
on pregnant women.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan:
CT scans use a series of X-rays from different angles.
- X-ray: X-rays have been used for
decades to determine internal problems with the body. Because it uses small
amounts of radiation, an X-ray isn’t considered safe for pregnant women.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI):
This test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the body’s
After your doctor reviews the images,
he/she will typically order a biopsy (unless there is certainty that the lesion
is benign) to remove a small sample of tissue. The sample is then sent to a
laboratory where it‘s examined under a microscope. A biopsy uses specialized
equipment to remove a tissue sample through a small incision in the skin.
The laboratory results will determine
if the tumor is cancerous or benign. Your doctor may also order blood tests to
check for the presence of markers in the blood caused by cancer.
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
more risky than letting the tumor be.
If your doctor decides to pursue
treatment, the specific treatment will depend on the location of the benign
tumor. Tumors may be removed for cosmetic reasons — if, for example, they are
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 and requires less
If surgery can’t safely access your
tumor, your doctor may prescribe radiation therapy to help reduce the size of
the tumor or prevent it from growing larger.
Living and Coping with Benign Tumors
Many benign tumors can be left alone
if they show no symptoms and create no complications.
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.