Navigate Up

Men's Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Y
Z

Print This Page

Tumor

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

Alternative Names

Mass; Neoplasm

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

In general, tumors occur when cells divide and grow excessively in the body. Normally, cell growth and division is strictly controlled. 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 causes include:

  • Benzene and other chemicals and toxins
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Environmental toxins, such as certain poisonous mushrooms and a type of poison that can grow on peanut plants (aflatoxins)
  • Excessive sunlight exposure
  • Genetic problems
  • Obesity
  • Radiation
  • Viruses

Types of tumors known to be caused by viruses are:

Some tumors are more common in one gender than the other. Some are more common among children or the elderly. 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:

Signs and tests

Your doctor or nurse might see a tumor, such as skin cancer. However, most cancers cannot 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 determine the exact location of the tumor and how far it has spread. More recently, positron emission tomography (PET ) scans have been used to find certain tumor types.

Other tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Treatment varies based on:

  • Type of tumor
  • Whether it is cancer or not
  • Location of the tumor

You may not need treatment if the tumor is benign (noncancerous) and in a "safe" area where it will not cause symptoms or cause problems with the way an organ works.

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 cancer, possible treatments include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Surgery
  • A combination of these methods

If a cancerous tumor is in one location, surgery is usually performed. Surgery may also be done if the tumor has spread only to nearby lymph nodes.

If all of the cancer cannot be removed with surgery, treatment includes radiation or chemotherapy, or both. Some patients need a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Support Groups

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

Expectations (prognosis)

The outlook varies greatly for different types of tumors. If the tumor is benign, the outlook is generally very good. However, there are some instances where a benign tumor can cause significant problems, such as in the brain.

If the tumor is malignant, 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 patients can live for many years with the cancer. Still other tumors are quickly life-threatening.

Complications

Complications can occur if a tumor is located in a region of the body where it affects the function of the normal organ. If the tumor is malignant, it can also cause complications if it spreads (metastasizes).

Prevention

You can reduce the risk of cancerous (malignant) tumors by:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting alcohol
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Minimizing exposure to radiation and toxic chemicals
  • Not smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Reducing sun exposure, especially if you burn easily

References

Moscow JA, Cowan KH. Biology of cancer. In Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 185.

Updated: 9/3/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com