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What You Need to Know About Benign vs Malignant Tumors

What You Need to Know About Benign vs Malignant Tumors

You have probably heard about benign and malignant tumors, especially when the subject of cancer is brought up. Malignant tumors are usually associated with cancer, and benign tumors are thought of as “safe.” However, the difference between benign and malignant tumors is not strictly limited to those two things.

Before we talk about the difference between benign and malignant tumors however, we need to first define what tumors are.

What Are Tumors?

Tumors are a group or a mass of cells in the body with no specific function. These can be the result of excessive cell reproduction, and can either be benign or malignant.

Tumors can grow almost anywhere inside the body, as well as outside the body, such as on the skin. They are mainly classified into two distinct types, which are benign and malignant tumors.

What Is the Difference Between Benign and Malignant Tumors?

What Are Benign Tumors?

Benign tumors are tumors that are usually non life-threatening. What this means is that a benign tumor does not metastasize or spread to other parts of the body.

Benign tumors do not serve any function in the body, and can either be left alone, or be removed through a surgical procedure.

Another big difference between benign and malignant tumors is that the structure of benign tumors are normal, or relatively close to the original cell. Benign tumors also grow much slower compared to malignant tumors.

However, benign tumors are not always harmless. If a benign tumor grows too close to an important organ such as the brain, or presses against blood vessels or nerves, then it can become a genuine concern.

Some types of benign tumors can also grow too large and cause serious problems if left alone. This is why it is important to get in touch with your doctor if you feel anything unusual in your body.

What Are Malignant Tumors?

Malignant tumors are tumors that are life-threatening, and are formed by masses of cancer cells.

Compared to benign tumors, the structure of the cells in malignant tumors seem abnormal compared to the original cell, and they can multiply faster and spread throughout the body. For example, you’ve probably heard about cases of breast cancer spreading to the brain or to the bones.

Malignant tumors also disrupt or impede the function of the organs they infect, which can eventually cause organs to eventually fail if the cancer is not treated.

Another important difference between benign and malignant tumors is that while benign tumors can easily be removed, malignant tumors are more resistant to treatment. This means that while doctors can perform surgery to remove malignant tumors, there is still the possibility of the tumor coming back if there are no follow up treatments.

Malignant tumors are significantly more dangerous when compared to benign tumors, and it is important to seek treatment as early as possible, before the tumor can spread throughout the body.

What Causes Tumors to Develop?

Another key difference between benign and malignant tumors is how they develop in the body.

For the most part, the cause of benign tumors are usually unknown. Some cells in the body just start reproducing abnormally, which causes a benign tumor to develop.

Malignant tumors on the other hand, can be caused by a number of things, such as the following:

  • Carcinogens, or chemicals that cause cancer
  • Chronic infection or inflammation
  • Certain diseases
  • Viruses, bacterial infection, or parasites
  • Poor lifestyle choices
  • Genetics, which means the risk of developing cancer can be passed on from parent to child

It is also possible for malignant tumors to simply develop in the body, without any identifiable cause.

What Are the Common Symptoms of Benign and Malignant Tumors?

The symptoms of benign tumors can vary depending on where the tumor is located, but here are some common symptoms:

  • Lump or growth in the skin that comes in shades of tan, pink, brown, or black
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • A hard mass under the skin

Some tumors, such as adenomas occur inside the body and might not have any noticeable symptoms. Other times they may secrete substances like hormones that affect bodily functions.

In the case of benign brain tumors, you might experience the following symptoms that are often related to the part of the body where they grow:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Loss of feeling in an arm or a leg
  • Seizures
  • Behavioral changes

For malignant tumors, the symptoms are usually more noticeable. These include the following:

  • A lump or mass suddenly appears under the skin
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Change in bowel movement
  • A growth in the skin or a mole that changes color, or changes in size
  • Unexplained breathing
  • Muscle or joint pain

How Can You Lower Your Risk of Developing Tumors?

Here are some ways to lower the risk of developing tumors:

  • Have a healthy diet full of vegetables and fruits, fish, and low in red meat and processed food.
  • Avoid smoking, since smoking can increase your risk for cancer. If you are a smoker, quit as soon as possible.
  • If you drink alcohol, be sure to drink moderately. This means drinking about one to three drinks per day for men, and one drink for women.
  • Engage in exercise for at least 30 minutes each day to help keep your body strong.
  • Keep your weight under control. Being overweight or obese increases your risk for certain types of cancer.
  • Avoid getting infected with viruses such as HPV, hepatitis, or HIV as these increase your risk of cancer. There are vaccines available for some of these viruses and they can prevent the development of cancer.
  • Avoid exposing yourself to chemicals, especially without any protection

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

What Are Tumors?, http://pathology.jhu.edu/pc/BasicTypes1.php, 26 May 2020

Cancer Overview – Harvard Health, https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/cancer-overview-a-to-z, 26 May 2020

Tumor vs. cyst: What’s the difference? – Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/expert-answers/tumor/faq-20057829, 26 May 2020

Heart Tumors, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/heart_vascular_institute/conditions_treatments/conditions/heart_tumors.html, 26 May 2020

Clinical Difference Between Benign and Malignant Tumors of the Hard Palate – PubMed, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31828419, 26 May 2020

Distinguishing benign and malignant growth | EdCaN, http://edcan.org.au/edcan-learning-resources/supporting-resources/biology-of-cancer/defining-cancer/benign-malignant-growth, 26 May 2020

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Jul 06
Medically reviewed by John Paul Ferolino Abrina, M.D.
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