- by Dr. Murali Subramanyam
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- Feb 09 2017
Difference between Malignant Tumor and Benign Tumor
When someone is diagnosed with a tumor, the first thing that your doctor will do is to identify whether it is malignant tumor or benign tumor. Identification of tumor type is necessary because the treatment plan depends on the disease. However, it is important to understand the difference between the two types of tumors – non-cancerous and cancerous – before trying to jump to a conclusion.
Benign tumors aren’t cancerous. They can often be removed, and, in most cases, they do not come back. Cells in benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.
While malignant tumors are cancerous and are made up of cancerous cells that grow out of control. Cells in these tumors 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 tumor 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 important 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 tumors 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 are Benign Tumors?
If you are told your tumor 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 tumor is not dangerous. However, the location of the tumor is what poses the threat. If the mass puts pressure on a primary nerve, the main artery, or compresses brain matter, even a benign tumor 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 tumor, 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 tumors 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 tumor, altering your diet to an anti-cancer regimen is sound medical advice. Some benign tumors can become malignant but it’s rare. Even when they are removed, your doctor will schedule regular tests periodically to ensure no additional tumors form (also a rare occurrence). Overall, benign tumors respond well to treatment and the prognosis is usually favorable.
If the doctor determines that you have a malignant tumor, that means the mass is cancerous. The word malignant is Latin for “badly born”. This type of tumor 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 tumors are cancerous. They divide without control and invade other tissues nearby. The cancerous cells of malignant tumors 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 tumors possess.
There are many suspected causes of cancer – some are widely accepted by the medical community 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 tumors 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 tumors are “elastic,” which enables them to grow fairly 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.
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