So, What is a Tumor?
If you are a fan of the daily horoscope in the newspaper, then you probably already know that the word “cancer” was derived from the Latin word for “crab”. This seems strangely appropriate, seeing as cancer, like a crab, grabs onto a person and doesn’t let them go easily.
Medically, the term “cancer” is used to describe a new type of growth which has the ability to invade the surrounding tissues. If the cancer does metastasize, it can spread to the other organs in the patient’s body, eventually killing them if left untreated. Early detection of cancer can mean the difference between life and death; consequently, oncologists want to catch it before it has a chance to metastasize.
Now, were you aware that the word “tumor” has Latin roots as well? In in its original Latin sense, “tumor” can literally be translated to mean “swelling”. Again this original meaning is oddly appropriate, since tumors are identified as a formulation created through abnormal tissue growth. The cells that are responsible for triggering these abnormal tissue growths are known as neoplastic cells. Additionally, the word “neoplasm” can sometimes be used as an accepted synonym for “tumor”.
Is it Malignant or Benign?
While a tumor is described as an abnormal tissue growth, this does not mean that every tumor is cancerous. A tumor can be either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Most tumors develop when certain cells in the body start to divide at an excessive or uncontrolled rate.
As you might have guessed, the division of cells in the body is usually a strictly controlled process. Our bodies need to create new cells in order to replace ones that are damaged, or in order to perform new tasks. The cells that are damaged will die in order to make room for the brand new cells. A healthy body is a supremely efficient system. However, when the balance of cell division and replacement is disrupted, a tumor can start to form.
Are there any Symptoms?
Some people may experience symptoms depending on what type of tumor it is, where it is located, and its general size. For example, if there is a tumor located in someone’s gastrointestinal tract, they may start to experience diarrhea or constipation, anemia, blood in their stool, or unexplained weight loss.
Other common symptoms include loss of appetite, fatigue, night sweats, fever, chills, and a general feeling of malaise. In many cases, the tumor will be asymptomatic, meaning that it won’t produce any noticeable symptoms in the patient. An asymptomatic tumor is usually discovered during some sort of unrelated operation. This can be pose a serious issue depending on what type of tumor the patient has.
Remember, these tumors can be either benign or malignant. In a benign tumor, the cells will not simply continue to divide without any order. In addition, it will not metastasize to other areas of the patient’s body. Most benign tumors have well defined borders, so they will not invade surrounding tissues. The standard protocol, depending on the location, is to surgically excise these benign tumors.
However, some benign tumors can be left alone if they do not pose any threat to a patient’s health or they are in a location where surgery would be dangerous to the patient. Luckily, benign tumors are rarely fatal, and once they have been removed there is very little chance that they will recur.
Tumors that are considered to be malignant (cancerous) are a completely different matter. Malignant tumors usually are often considered to be life-threatening. The diseased cells in these tumors are often defined by one of three main characteristics: they are growing uncontrollably, they have started to invade and cause damage to other healthy cells, or they have started to metastasize to any of the other organs in the patient’s body. Medical research has shown that there are a number of environmental factors that can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing a malignant tumor.
Please be wary of over-indulging in such things as tobacco, alcohol, and bad diet (everything in moderation!). Indeed most malignant tumors are potentially fatal, but depending on when it is discovered, its size, and its location, an individual patient’s odds for survival can vary significantly. Early detection and proactive treatment are keys to saving a patient’s life.
According to the British oncologist Dr. R.A. Willis, a neoplasm is an abnormal mass of tissue, which expands (grows) to such an extent that would exceed any normal tissues. This excessive growth continues long after the catalyst for its start has finished. Through this classification, Dr. Willis offered some valuable insight into the affects and processes of neoplasms. However, to this day the biomedical community at large has not been able to reach a full consensus as to what the actual definition of a neoplasm should be.