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Tumor

Mass; Neoplasm

A tumor is an abnormal growth of body tissue. Tumors can be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign).

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Causes

In general, tumors occur when cells divide and grow excessively in the body. Normally, the body controls cell growth and division. New cells are created 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 growth and death is disturbed, a tumor may form.

Problems with the body's immune system can lead to tumors. Tobacco causes more deaths from cancer than any other environmental substance. Other risk factors for cancer include:

Types of tumors known to be caused by or linked with viruses are:

Some tumors are more common in one sex than the other. Some are more common among children or older adults. Others are related to diet, environment, and family history.

Symptoms

Symptoms depend on the type and location of the tumor. For example, lung tumors may cause coughing, shortness of breath, or chest pain. Tumors of the colon can cause weight loss, diarrhea, constipation, iron deficiency anemia, and blood in the stool.

Some tumors may not cause any symptoms. Others, such as pancreatic cancer, DO NOT usually cause symptoms until the disease has reached an advanced stage.

The following symptoms may occur with tumors:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider might see a tumor, such as skin cancer. But most cancers can't be seen during an exam because they are deep inside the body.

When a tumor is found, a piece of the tissue is removed and examined under a microscope. This is called a biopsy. It is done to determine if the tumor is noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Depending on the location of the tumor, the biopsy may be a simple procedure or a serious operation.

A CT or MRI scan can help determine the exact location of the tumor and how far it has spread. Another imaging test called positron emission tomography (PET) is used to find certain tumor types.

Other tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Treatment varies based on:

You may not need treatment if the tumor is:

Sometimes benign tumors may be removed for cosmetic reasons or to improve symptoms. 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 cancer, possible treatments may include:

Support Groups

A cancer diagnosis often causes a lot of anxiety and can affect a person's entire life. There are many resources for cancer patients.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outlook varies greatly for different types of tumors. If the tumor is benign, the outlook is generally very good. But a benign tumor can sometimes cause severe problems, such as in the brain.

If the tumor is cancerous, the outcome depends on the type and stage of the tumor at diagnosis. Some cancers can be cured. Some that are not curable can still be treated, and people can live for many years with the cancer. Still other tumors are quickly life threatening.

Related Information

Benign
Malignancy
Cancer
Lung cancer
Atrial myxoma

References

Black AR, Cowan KH. Cancer biology and genetics. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 181.

Gala MK, Chung DC. Cellular growth and neoplasia. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 1.

Maxwell PJ, Isenberg GA. Tumors of the colon and rectum. In: Kellerman RD, Bope ET, eds. Conn's Current Therapy 2018. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018: pp 248-252.

National Cancer Institute website. Symptoms of cancer. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/symptoms. Updated March 29, 2018. Accessed September 5, 2018.

Nussbaum RL, McInnes RR, Willard HF. Cancer genetics and genomics. In: Nussbaum RL, McInnes RR, Willard HF, eds. Thompson & Thompson Genetics in Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 15.

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Review Date: 7/12/2018  

Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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