• Noncancerous Versus Cancerous Tumors

    A tumor is a mass of abnormally dividing cells. There are two types of tumors:

    Benign Tumors

    Benign tumors are slow-growing, well-defined tumors that do not spread. In rare cases, untreated benign tumors may be life-threatening if they affect a vital organ. Because they do not invade the surrounding tissue, benign tumors are relatively easy to remove surgically, depending on their location. In some cases, benign tumors may become malignant, though this usually takes a long time (sometimes decades) if it happens at all. Benign tumors generally do not cause death or serious illness unless they are very large (such as some benign ovarian tumors) or if they affect a critical organ that makes it difficult to operate on and remove them (such as tumors in the brain).

    Malignant Tumors

    The term cancer is usually reserved for malignant tumors, which, like benign tumors, are masses of structurally abnormal cells growing uncontrollably. They differ, however, in their ability to invade the surrounding tissue and, in many cases, metastasize (spread) to different sites of the body via the lymphatic system or the bloodstream. This is one reason why surgical treatment alone for more advanced malignancies is often unsuccessful. Because malignant cells have a tendency to leave their site of origin, surgeons may leave them behind, which may result in new tumors in other locations. This is often treated by chemotherapy (systematic drugs aimed at killing deposits of cancer cells in sites other than the primary), or by radiation therapy applied over a broader area than that involved by the main tumor itself. To learn more about the process of metastasis, see the Cancerous Cell Growth and Development section of this classroom. Image 1 illustrates the difference between benign and malignant cancer cells.

    benign versus malignant
    Image 1: Benign versus malignant tumors
    How do normal cells grow and develop?How do cancerous cells grow and develop?What is a cancer gene? How do they occur?What causes cancer?What is the epidemiology of cancer?What are the different types of cancer?

    References

    American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2003 . Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, Inc;2003.

    Bast RC, Kufe DW, Pollock RE, et al. Eds. Cancer Medicine . 5th ed. Hamilton, ON: Decker Inc; 2000.

    Cancer. Merck Manual of Medical Information website. Available at: http://www.merck.com/mrkshared/mmanual%5Fhome/contents.jsp . Accessed March 25, 2003.

    Defining cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/what-is-cancer . Accessed August 1, 2008.

    Detailed guide. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/ . Accessed August 1, 2008.

    Finley RS, Balmer C. Concepts in Oncology Therapeutics . 2nd ed. Bethesda, MD: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists;1998.

    Fox SI. Human Physiology . 4th ed. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown Publishers; 1993.

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