The words "tumour" and "cancer" often cause feelings of fear and uncertainty. However, not all tumours are cancerous or life-threatening.
A tumour is a solid mass of tissue, formed by a grouping of abnormal cells. These tumours can affect bones, skin, organs, and glands, and can be benign or malignant (cancerous). If malignant, they pose a significant risk to your health and require treatment.
While benign tumours do not pose the same risk, some of these tumours could require treatment due to the discomfort or pain that they cause. They can also cause complications by compressing or blocking parts of the body.
What Is The Difference Between Malignant And Benign?
Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as your body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and the new ones take their place. However, this process sometimes goes awry. New cells multiply faster than they are meant to, and old cells don't die when they should. These extra cells can pile up to form tumours.
Malignant tumours generally grow faster than benign ones. These cancerous growths have the potential to invade nearby tissues and spread to other areas of the body through a process called metastasis. This is what makes them dangerous to your system, and you will usually require treatment. Cancerous tumours can also sometimes return after treatment.
A benign tumour is a non-cancerous growth of cells that is usually localised, which means that they are unlikely to invade nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body. These tumours are generally slow-growing and have well-defined borders.
Depending on their location and size, benign tumours typically don't pose a significant threat to your health. However, some can cause discomfort and pain, and can even be harmful if they are pressing on vital organs or blocking important channels. Benign tumours generally do not return after treatment.
There are many different types of benign tumours, which can form in a multitude of places within your body, arising from various types of cells and tissues in the body. Some types of benign tumours include: adenoma, chondroma, fibroma, hemangioma, lipoma, lymphangioma, meningioma, myoma, neuroma, osteoma, and skin tumours.
What Is A Precancerous Tumour?
A third category of tumour is precancerous (or premalignant) tumours. While these tumours are not cancerous, they have the potential to become malignant. Some types of precancerous tumours include actinic keratosis, cervical dysplasia, colon polyps, and ductal carcinoma in situ.
Tumour changes can’t always be predicted, and it is possible for a tumour to go from benign to premalignant to malignant. For precancerous tumours, regular monitoring is important to ensure fast treatment if cell changes lead to cancer.
What Causes Benign Tumours?
The exact cause of a benign tumour is not always clear. However, genetics can play a role in the development of these tumours. Certain inherited conditions, such as familial adenomatous polyposis or neurofibromatosis, can increase an individual's risk of developing specific types of benign tumours.
Environmental factors, such as exposure to certain chemicals or radiation, can also contribute to the development of benign tumours. Additional risk factors for developing benign tumours may include age, hormonal imbalances, and chronic inflammation.
The relationship between lifestyle factors and benign tumour development is complex and not entirely understood yet. Whether or not they directly cause tumours, there seems to be an indirect effect on your risk of developing tumours. This is due to the way that unhealthy lifestyles and stress affect your overall health, your immune functioning, and your hormonal balance.
Development of benign tumours often involves multiple factors, but it's essential to note that having one or more of these risk factors doesn't necessarily mean that an individual will develop a benign tumour; it simply increases their chances.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding exposure to known carcinogens, and having regular check-ups with healthcare providers can help minimise the risk of developing benign tumours and improve your overall health.
How Are Benign Tumours Diagnosed?
When a tumour is detected or suspected, further examination is needed to assess whether it is cancerous or benign. The diagnostic process for benign tumours may involve a combination of physical examinations, imaging tests (such as X-rays, ultrasound, CT scans, or MRIs), blood tests, and biopsies. If the tumour is in a hard-to-reach area, it may even need to be removed before it can be examined.
While all of the above provide important information, the biopsy involves removing a sample of the tumour and examining it under a microscope, making it the most reliable way of assessing whether a tumour is benign or malignant.
Can A Benign Tumour Be Treated?
Treatment options for benign tumours vary depending on the type, size, location, and potential symptoms. In many cases, a benign tumour may not require any treatment if it's not causing symptoms or posing any health risks. However, regular monitoring might be recommended to ensure that the tumour doesn't grow or change over time.
It is rare for a benign tumour to shrink or disappear without any intervention. In cases where a benign tumour is causing discomfort, pain, or other complications, treatment options may include surgery, medication, and minimally invasive procedures.
An example of a complication from a benign tumour might be a benign brain tumour pressing on healthy brain tissue, causing issues within certain areas of brain functioning such as vision or speech. Another example is an endocrine tumour which could cause the overproduction of hormones.
Should I Be Worried About Benign Tumours?
Benign tumours are non-cancerous growths that generally don't invade nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body. They can arise from different cell types and have a variety of causes and risk factors. Many of these tumours are not a significant threat to your health and won’t require treatment. However, others can cause discomfort or complications, in which case you will need to seek out medical intervention.
It is important to have regular check-ups with your healthcare provider and report any new or concerning symptoms, as early detection and management of benign tumours can help minimise any complications and improve your overall health outcomes.