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Home > Health Hub > Article > Difference between Benign and Malignant Tumors

Difference between Benign and Malignant Tumors

Dr. Murali Subramanyam

Dr. Murali Subramanyam

  Malleswaram, Bengaluru     Feb 9, 2017

   6 min     



Cancer is the abnormal growth of human cells with the potential to spread or invade to other parts of the body except for benign tumours or which do not spread. Before diving deep into the types of cancer, we must first know what a tumour is?

A tumour, also known as a neoplasm, is an abnormal mass of tissue that may be solid or fluid-filled. It is not the same as cancer, although some can develop into cancers. A tumour is a kind of lump or swelling and does not necessarily pose a health threat. It is defined as a swelling or morbid enlargement that results from an overabundance of cell growth and division; normally cells grow and divide to produce new cells in a controlled and orderly manner.

When someone is diagnosed with a tumour, the first thing that your doctor will do is to identify whether it is a malignant tumour or benign tumour. Identification of tumour type is necessary because the treatment plan depends on the disease. 

However, it is essential to understand the difference between benign and malignant tumors:

1. Non-cancerous (Benign) 

2. Cancerous (Malignant) 

Benign tumours aren’t cancerous. They can often be removed, and, in most cases, they do not come back. Cells in benign tumours do not spread to other parts of the body.

While malignant tumours are cancerous and are made up of cancerous cells that grow out of control, cells in these tumours can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. Sometimes cells move away from the original (primary) cancer site and spread to other organs and bones where they can continue to grow and form another tumour at that site. This is known as metastasis or secondary cancer. Metastases still keep the name of the original cancer location (e.g. pancreatic cancer that has spread to the liver is still called pancreatic cancer).

Understanding what makes a growth benign or malignant is essential to recognize your prognosis, the various steps you’ll have to take to correct the imbalance that caused it, and what it could mean regarding your future health. All tumours share certain characteristics like they are made up of cells your body does not need, and old or damaged cells are not destroyed when they should be. Let’s begin with the basic definitions.

What is the difference between benign and malignant tumors?

Benign Tumors

If you are told your tumour is “benign,” that means it is not cancerous. It is similar to cancer because the growth is a result of abnormal cells. However, unlike cancer, it is unable to spread to other areas of the body (such as the brain or lungs), and it does not affect nearby tissue. It is a contained mass that stays where it grows. On its own, a benign tumour is not dangerous. However, the location of the tumor is what posses the threat. If the mass puts pressure on a primary nerve, the main artery, or compresses brain matter, even a benign tumour can cause serious problems. Read further to learn about types of Benign Tumors!

Most Common Types of Benign Tumors:

- Adenomas (epithelial tissue that covers the organs and glands)

- Meningiomas (brain and spinal cord)

- Fibromas or fibroids (connective tissue of any organ – most commonly   found in the uterus)

- Papillomas (skin, breast, cervix, and mucous membranes)

- Lipomas (fat cells)

- Nevi (moles)

- Myomas (muscle tissue)

- Hemangiomas (blood vessels and skin)

- Neuromas (nerves)

- Osteochondromas (bones)

Depending on the location and size of a benign tumour, treatment may or may not be necessary. Doctors will monitor the stage of cancer closely, track patient symptoms, and do tests at specific intervals.

Benign tumours are often surrounded by a protective “sac” – a mechanism performed by your immune system – that segregates it from the rest of your body and enables it to be easily removed. If you are diagnosed with a benign tumour, altering your diet to an anti-cancer regimen is sound medical advice. Some benign tumours can become malignant, but it’s rare. Even when they are removed, your doctor will schedule regular tests periodically to ensure no additional tumours from (also a rare occurrence). Overall, benign tumours respond well to treatment, and the prognosis is usually favourable. A premalignant tumour is one that is not yet cancerous but is about to be.

Malignant Tumors

If the doctor determines that you have a malignant tumour that means the mass is cancerous. The word malignant is Latin for “badly born”. This type of tumour has the ability to multiply uncontrollably, to metastasize (spread) to various parts of the body, and invade surrounding tissue. According to the National Cancer Institute, malignant tumours are cancerous. They divide without control and invade other tissues nearby. The cancerous cells of malignant tumours are highly unstable and travel via the bloodstream, circulatory system, and lymphatic system. Malignant cells do not have chemical adhesion molecules to anchor them to the original growth site that benign tumours possess. There are many suspected causes of cancer – the medical community widely accepts some while others are not. Obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet, environmental pollution, heavy metal exposure, and household toxins are a few culprits that may lead to cancer in your body.

Most Common Types of Malignant Tumors

Sarcomas – This cancer usually occurs in the connective tissues such as muscle, tendon, fat, and cartilage)

Carcinomas – This cancer takes place in the organs and gland tissue. For example, Breast Cancer, Cervix Cancer, Lung Cancer, Thyroid, Cancer in Prostate Glands, etc.

Malignant tumours may not have symptoms initially, and the first indication that something isn’t right may be the detection of a painless lump. These types of tumours are “elastic,” which enables them to grow relatively large before they are detected.

As they grow and begin to press against organs, blood vessels and nerves, pain and general soreness at the site may occur. Cancer treatment usually involves surgical removal, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, etc.

According to the World Health Organization, The global cancer patient is estimated to have risen to 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths in 2018. One in 5 men and one in 6 women worldwide develop cancer during their lifetime, and one in 8 men and one in 11 women die from the disease. Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of cancer in the world, causing 22% of cancer deaths. Cancer is an incredibly variable set of diseases, a reckless malignant growth of cells that, despite intense amounts of research, remains poorly understood. A benign tumour may pose no health problems at all. A malignant tumour, however, can be fatal and difficult to treat. The severity of a malignant tumour also depends on the location of the tumour and how quickly it can metastasize. Tumours should not be confused for cysts, which are distinct but can be similar.

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Tags:  Cancer,Benign Tumor, Malignant Tumors

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