Benign tumors are noncancerous growths in the body. They can occur anywhere in the body, grow slowly, and have clear borders. Unlike cancerous tumors, they don’t spread to other parts of the body.
If you discover a lump or mass in your body that can be felt from the outside, you might immediately assume it is a cancerous tumor. For instance, women who find lumps in their breasts during self-examinations are often alarmed. However, most breast growths are benign. In fact, many growths throughout the body are benign.
Benign growths are extremely common, and more than 90 percent of breast tissue changes are benign. Benign bone tumors, similarly, have a higher prevalence than malignant bone tumors.
A benign tumor can grow anywhere on or in your body. These neoplasms have different names depending on where they develop:
Adenoma: This is a benign tumor on or in a gland or organ (such as the pituitary gland, colon or liver).
Chondroma: A chondroma is a benign neoplasm that forms in cartilage, a flexible connective tissue throughout the body.
Fibroma or fibroid: This is a noncancerous tumor in the fibrous tissue, a dense connective tissue in tendons and ligaments. Fibromas can grow in fibrous tissue throughout your body. They are most common in your skin, mouth, foot and uterus (called uterine fibroids).
Hemangioma: These types of benign neoplasms grow from blood vessels. Hemangiomas most often occur on the skin in babies. But they can also form on internal organs such as the liver, colon or brain.
Lipoma: A lipoma forms from fat cells. This benign fatty tumor grows just below your skin. It’s the most common type of benign tumor.
Lymphangioma: This type of benign neoplasm develops in your lymphatic system. It can cause fluid-filled cysts on your skin and mucous membranes, which line your mouth, nose and inner eyelids.
Meningioma: Meningiomas begin in the meninges, a layer of tissue around your brain. They can press on the brain and spinal cord. Most meningiomas are benign, but they can grow large and become life-threatening.
Myoma: These benign tumors grow from smooth muscle. Leiomyomas often grow in the uterus (also known as uterine fibroids) or gastrointestinal tract.
Neuroma: This type of benign neoplasm develops within nerves. They can grow anywhere in your body. Common neuromas include schwannoma, neurofibroma and ganglioneuroma.
Osteoma: This noncancerous tumor forms from bone. New, abnormal bone grows on other bone. Most osteomas grow on your skull. Osteoid osteomas develop in long bones, such as those in your legs. They are most common in children and young adults.
Skin tumors: There are many types of benign skin tumors. Some of the most common include cherry angioma, sebaceous hyperplasia, seborrheic keratoses, dermatofibromas and acrochordons (also called skin tags).
What causes a benign tumor to form? Often the cause is unknown. But the growth of a benign tumor might be linked to:
Many benign neoplasms don’t cause any symptoms at all. But if they grow large enough to press on bodily structures, they may cause:
Doctors use a variety of techniques to diagnose benign tumors. The key in diagnosis is determining if a tumor is benign or malignant. Only lab tests can determine this with certainty. Your doctor may begin by performing a physical exam and collecting your medical history. They’ll also ask you about your symptoms. Many internal benign tumors are found and located by imaging tests, including:
Benign tumors often have a visual border of a protective sac that helps doctors diagnose them as benign. Your doctor may also order blood tests to check for the presence of cancer markers.
In other cases, doctors will take a biopsy of the tumor to determine whether it’s benign or malignant. The biopsy will be more or less invasive depending on the tumor’s location. Skin tumors are easy to remove and only require a local anesthetic, while colon polyps would require a colonoscopy, for example, and a stomach tumor may require an endoscopy.
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