The difference between benign and malignant tumors

By definition a tumor that is benign is not harmful. A benign tumor grows very slowly and doesn't spread to other parts of the body. Uterine fibroids as well as moles are examples of benign tumors. A malignant tumor is a cancerous growth that develops rapidly and uncontrollably, infecting other tissues around it and spreading cancerous cells to other parts of the body via the blood or the lymph system.

Causes of benign and malignant tumors

Tumors, whether benign or malignant, may be attributed to any number of factors, including:

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Excessive exposure to sunlight
  • Exposure to environmental toxins
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Genetics
  • Smoking
  • Viruses

Sometimes tumors are detected during self-examination of breast, mouth, testicles or skin. They may also be detected during a regular screening or routine exam, or during tests and treatments for other conditions.

What to do if you feel a tumor

Whenever you feel an irregular mass of tissue, it's important to get it checked out by your doctor. If it is a tumor, your physician will order a biopsy (a tissue sample of your tumor examined under a microscope) to determine if it is benign or malignant. Benign tumors generally require little to no intervention unless the tumor has grown significantly and its size is affecting other tissues and organs.

If the tumor is malignant, that means you have cancer and will need to work with your doctor to determine your treatment.

Main Line Health is here to guide you through all aspects of identifying and treating benign and malignant tumors.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.