What Is a Benign Tumor?

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A tumor can develop when cells grow too quickly or don’t die when they are supposed to. This collection of abnormal cells is called a tumor. Not all tumors are cancerous, some are noncancerous, or benign. 

To determine whether a tumor is benign or cancerous, a doctor can take a sample of the cells with a biopsy procedure. Then the biopsy is analyzed under a microscope by a pathologist (a doctor specializing in laboratory science).

Dermatologist examines the subcutaneous wen on the patient's arm, close-up. Skin cancer, malignancy disease concept - stock photo

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Types of Benign Tumors

Benign tumors can occur anywhere in the body and are generally unable to move or travel into other areas of the body. Each system of the body has the potential of having a benign tumor develop. Examples include:

  • Blood vessels: Hemangioma
  • Brain and nervous system: Schwannoma, neurofibroma, meningioma 
  • Breast: Fibroadenoma
  • Colon: Adenomas, polyp
  • Endocrine glands: Pheochromocytoma, paraganglioma
  • Kidney: Renal adenoma
  • Liver: Hepatic adenoma, hepatic hemangioma
  • Lung: Hamartoma, papilloma, bronchial adenoma
  • Muscle: Leiomyoma
  • Skin and other soft tissue: Seborrheic keratosis, papilloma, lipoma, chondroma

Adenomas

Adenoma are benign tumors that develop from the tissue that lines the organs and glands in the body. Some of these tumors have the potential of developing into cancer, for example, colonic adenomas. 

Hamartoma

Hamartoma tumors may occur in the lungs, heart, skin, brain, breast, or other regions. They are made up of abnormal but not cancerous cells similar to the cells that make up the tissue where they originate. 

Myoma 

Myomas are also called fibroids. They are often found in the uterus and develop from the smooth tissue lining of the uterus. They are very common and more than half of those with a uterus will have fibroids by the age of 50.

Papillomas

Papillomas grow from tissue that makes up the skin, body cavities, and lining of organs. They usually grow outward and form a lesion. An intraductal papilloma is a small, benign (noncancerous), wart-like growth on the lining of the milk duct that may cause nipple discharge.

Benign Tumor Symptoms

Symptoms of benign tumors can vary based on their location and if they are putting pressure on other structures. Some benign tumors may have no symptoms at all.

Some symptoms may include:

  • Blood vessels: Flat or raised red areas on the skin 
  • Brain: Headaches, nausea or vomiting, vision changes, confusion, balance problems, seizures
  • Breast: Firm lump that is painless, has smooth edges, and is easy to move around 
  • Colon: Change in bowel patterns, abdominal pain
  • Endocrine glands: Sweating, fast heart rate, nausea, vomiting, weakness, anxiety, headaches
  • Kidney: Blood in the urine, flank pain
  • Liver: Right-sided abdominal pain, feeling of fullness in the abdomen
  • Lung: Cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing, coughing up blood
  • Muscle: Swelling or pain
  • Skin and other soft tissue: Flat or raised areas on the skin, discolored spots, moveable lumps under the skin, moles
  • Uterus: Heavy menstrual cycle bleeding, pelvic pain, frequent urination

Causes

Every cell grows and reproduces through a very specific cycle. Cells are also programmed to only live for a specific length of time.

If the DNA inside of the cell becomes abnormal for any reason, the process of cell division becomes abnormal as well, and cells don’t die when they are supposed to. When these normal processes are altered, these cells can grow too quickly and live longer than they are supposed to. These cells then form the tumor. 

DNA damage can occur through:

  • Tissue injury
  • Inflammation
  • Chemical exposure
  • Viral infections 

Treatment

Often, benign tumors don’t require any treatment. However, if they are causing a distressing symptom or are pressing onto critical structures, they will need to be removed. This is typically done by surgery.

If no surgery is required, the tumors are often followed for any change in size or the development of new symptoms. 

Prognosis

Having a benign tumor generally has a great prognosis. As these tumors are not cancer, they are generally not life-threatening. However, they may cause symptoms that require treatment. 

A Word From Verywell

If you have a benign tumor that is causing you symptoms, speak to your healthcare team to see if any treatment is required. You should also address any concerns you have about the tumor becoming cancerous with your healthcare team as well. 

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