There are two basic types of tumors. One type of tumor is non-cancerous and referred to as benign. The other type is cancerous and referred to as malignant.
Generally speaking, a tumor is caused by body tissues that grow to form an abnormal mass. This abnormal growth is initiated by abnormally regulated or unbalanced cell division. When tumors are benign, they typically grow at a slow rate. Usually, benign growths are harmless and do not spread to other parts of the body.
Even though benign varieties are usually innocuous, their growth can interfere with the ability of healthy tissues to grow and thrive. In fact, they may grow large enough to apply pressure to vital body organs, resulting in serious illness or death. When benign growths become too large, they may require surgical removal for cosmetic purposes or to preserve surrounding tissues. Once removed, they usually don’t return.
Malignant tumors grow at a faster rate than the benign variety and can cause serious health problems. They may spread to other body tissues and destroy them. These cancerous growths often cause death.
Treatment of a malignancy may include surgical removal, radiation, or chemotherapy. Often, there is a direct correlation between the placement of the malignant growth and the treatment chosen. For example, a tumor confined to a relatively small local area may be removed surgically, while growths that are more spread out may require radiation treatment or chemotherapy. Sometimes, a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation is used. Some malignant cancers cannot be cured completely. Often, a carcinoma that fits this description can still be treated, however, extending the life of the patient.
A patient’s chance of successful treatment or cure may depend on the time of diagnosis. In general, growths discovered in the early stages of development tend to be easier to treat or cure than those that have been left untreated for quite some time. Also, certain types of malignant growths tend to spread rapidly and cause death in a short time, while others grow slowly, allowing affected individuals to live with them for many years.
When a person has a tumor, his or her doctor is likely to recommend a biopsy to determine whether it is malignant or benign. Computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans are often recommended to assist doctors in visualizing growths and learning their precise locations and sizes. In some cases, x-rays may be used as well.