Tumor forms when cells start to multiply and produce an abnormal growth. Malignant cells can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body and form cancers. When tumor cells do not have the ability to spread, they are called benign. In many cases, benign tumors can be managed by observation. But depending upon their location, they can have serious impacts.
We spoke with Marc-Elie Nader, M.D., a head and neck surgeon who often treats benign tumors, to see what patients should know.
What are some types of benign tumors?
Benign tumors can form anywhere in the body. Some types of benign tumors include:
Adenomas: These tumors start in the epithelial tissue of a gland. A common example of an adenoma is a colon polyp.
Fibroids: Fibroids are made of connective tissue and often form in the uterus. They can lead to bleeding, bladder problems and pelvic pain.
Lipomas: Lipomas are formed by fat cells. They are the most common type of benign tumor.
Meningiomas: These tumors develop in the brain and spinal cord membranes and are most commonly benign.
Nevi: These noncancerous growths are more typically known as moles and appear on the skin.
What are some benign tumor symptoms?
Benign tumor symptoms depend on the location of the tumor and what specifically surrounds it.
In the case of a benign tumor called an acoustic neuroma, the tumor may push against the auditory nerve, which can lead to hearing problems and balance issues. A lipoma, on the other hand, most commonly occurs just under the skin and doesn’t cause more than a bump.
Why and when do benign tumors need treatment?
Benign tumors require treatment when they impact quality of life or other functions. Sometimes, it’s appropriate to wait and watch benign tumors before treatment. But in some cases, it’s best to treat them as soon as patient’s notice side effects – or even before. Since every case is different, your doctor can help you determine which approach is best.
How are benign tumors treated?
At MD Anderson, we treat benign tumors similar to how we treat malignant or cancerous tumors. First, we confirm the diagnosis. We use our state-of-the-art imaging technology to perform MRIs and CT scans or conduct biopsies – whatever is the most appropriate for each patient.
Then, once we have confirmed the tumor type, we determine the best treatment. When a benign tumor requires treatment, it isn’t too different from the treatment of a malignant or cancerous tumor. It may be radiation therapy, radiosurgery for benign tumors located in the skull base, surgery or chemotherapy. Even immunotherapy, a type of treatment that trains the immune system to attack cancer, can be used to treat benign tumors, like meningiomas. At MD Anderson, we’re constantly looking for ways new ways to diagnose and treat benign tumors. We have nearly 100 open clinical trials focused on the various types of benign tumors.
Anything else should patients with benign tumors know?
Benign tumors don’t always require treatment. But when they do, it’s best to seek care from an expert who can best determine whether treatment or monitoring is needed.
At MD Anderson, we treat benign tumors every day. They’re not so rare to us.