A tumor is an abnormal growth of body tissue. Tumors can
be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign)
Causes, Incidence, and Risk Factors
In general, tumors appear to occur when there is a problem with
the dividing of cells in the body. Typically, the division of cells in the
body is strictly controlled. New cells are crated to replace older ones or
to perform new functions. Cells that are damaged or no longer needed die
to make room for healthy replacements.
If the balance of cell division and death is disturbed, a tumor
Problems with the body's immune system can lead to
tumors. Tobacco causes more deaths from cancer than any other
environmental substance. Other causes include obesity, inactivity
(sedentary lifestyle), excessive alcohol consumption, radiation, genetic
problems, excessive sunlight exposure, benzene, and a number of other chemicals
Some tumors are more common in one sex than the other, some are
more common among children or the elderly, and some vary with diet, environment,
and your family history.
Symptoms depend on the type and location of the tumor.
For example, lung tumors may cause coughing, shortness of breath, or chest pain,
while tumors of the colon can cause weight loss, diarrhea, constipation, iron
deficiency anemia, and blood in the stool.
Some tumors produce no
symptoms, but symptoms that often accompany tumors include:
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Signs and Tests
Like the symptoms, the signs of tumors vary based on their site
and type. When a tumor is found, a biopsy is performed to determine if the
tumor is benign or malignant. Depending on the location of the tumor, the
biopsy may be a simple procedure or a serious operation. Most patients
with tumors undergo CT scans or MRI to determine the exaction location of the
tumor and its extent. Most recently, positron emission tomography (PET)
scans have been used to visualize certain tumor types.
Common tests used to diagnose tumors include:
- CT scan
- Pet scan
- Complete blood cout (CBC)
- Blood chemistries
Biopsy of the tumor
- Bone marrow biopsy (most often for lymphoma or
- Chest x-ray
Treatment also varies based on the type of tumor, whether it is
benign or malignant, and its location. If the tumor is benign (meaning it
has no potential to spread) and is located in a "safe" area where it will not
cause symptoms or disturb the proper functioning of the organ, sometimes no
treatment is needed. Sometimes benign tumors may be removed for cosmetic
reasons. Benign tumors of the brain may be removed because of their
location or harmful effect on the surrounding normal brain tissue.
If a tumor is malignant, treatments include surgery, radiation,
chemotherapy, or a combination of these methods.
If the cancer is confined to one location, the goal of
treatment is usually surgical removal of the tumor and cure. If the tumor
has spread to local lymph nodes only, sometimes these can also be removed.
If all of the cancer cannot be removed with surgery, the options for treatment
include radiation and chemotherapy, or both. Some patients require a
combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
In contrast, lymphoma is rarely treated with surgery.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are most often used for treating
The diagnosis of cancer often causes a lot of anxiety and can
affect one's entire life. There are numerous resources for cancer
The outlook varies widely among different types of
tumors. If the tumor is benign, the prognosis is generally very
good. However, there are some instances where a benign tumor can cause
significant problems, for instance, in the brain.
If the tumor is malignant, the outcome varies depending on the
stage of the tumor at diagnosis. Some cancers can be cured. Some
that are not curable can still be treated and patients can live for many years
with the cancer. Still other tumors are rapidly fatal.
Complications can occur if a tumor is located in a region of
the body where it compromises the function of the normal organ. If the
tumor is malignant, it can also cause complications if it spreads or
Calling Your Healthcare Provider
Call your healthcare provider if you notice any suspicious
lumps or bumps on your body or if you notice a new or changing mole on your
The risk of malignant tumors (cancer) can be reduced by not
smoking or chewing tobacco, avoiding heavy alcohol consumption, eating a
healthy diet, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, reducing sun
exposure if you burn easily, and minimize exposure of radiation and toxic