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All tumors are NOT cancers

Tumour is a scary term. When someone is diagnosed with a tumor, there is an instant response emotionally, mentally and even physically. Confusion arises because these two words “tumor” and “cancer” are often regarded as the same thing. Terror is a common reaction to the word “tumor” – whether it is benign or malignant- to the physician, as well as cancer or not – to the patient. The difference between the two types of tumors – non-cancerous and cancerous – is important. Because all tumours are not cancers, again not all cancers necessarily make tumors.


Tumors are often termed as Mass, Growth or Neoplasm. Understanding what makes a growth benign or malignant is to recognize the prognosis. We have to take the various steps to correct the imbalance that caused it, and plan accordingly regarding the future health. All tumors share certain characteristics; they are cells the body does not need and old or damaged cells are not destroyed when they should be. 


MALIGNANT vs.  BENIGN TUMOR                 

BENIGN (not cancer) tumor cells grow only locally and cannot spread by invasion or metastasis. They are often surrounded by a  protective “sac”

A mechanism performed by the immune system

That segregates the tumor from rest of the body, and enables it to be easily removed.


BENIGN TUMORS                                         Capsulated                  Non-Invasive

                                                                         Slow growing             Non- Cancerous


Most Common Benign Tumors Lipoma (fat cells)

•      Fibroma or fibroids (connective tissue of any organ-most commonly  found in the uterus)

•      Adenoma (epithelial tissue that covers the organs and   glands, like stomach, small intestine, colon)


      Fibroadenoma (Breast)

•    Meningioma (brain and spinal cord)

•    Papilloma (skin, breast, cervix, and mucous membranes)

•    Polyp (stomach, colon)


MALIGNANT (cancer)    

Tumor cells invade neighbouring tissues, enter blood vessels and metastasize to different sites. They may not have symptoms initially and the first indication that something is not right may be the detection of a painless lump.


MALIGNANT TUMORS                                Cancerous            Invasive & infiltrate

                                                                         Fast-growing       Non-Capsulated

                                                                         Metastasize


Most Common Malignant Tumors

•Carcinomas (organs and gland tissue such as the breast, stomach, colon, uterus, prostate, lung)

•Sarcomas (connective tissues such as muscle, tendon, fat, and cartilage)


Pre-Cancerous Tumors

Precancerous tumors fall between benign and malignant. They are also called premalignant cells -defined as abnormal cells that could turn into cancerous cells but which by themselves are not invasive.

Infection: Human papilloma virus (HPV) in the cervix can progress to cervical cancer, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) can result in chronic atrophic gastritis leading to stomach cancer.


•Chronic Inflammation:  Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and Barrett’s esophagus may develop esophageal cancer, Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can eventually lead to colon cancer.

•Chronic Irritation:  Tobacco smoke, air pollution, and some industrial chemicals can result in bronchial dysplasia progress to lung cancer.


•Atypical Ductal/lobular hyperplasia may develop into breast cancer.

•Adenomatous polyp in the colon may transform into colon cancer.

•Dysplastic moles may form melanoma


By: Dr. Rama Biswas, Associate Consultant, Neurology