A malignant tumor is a group of diseased cells defined by one of three characteristics: uncontrolled growth, invasion and damage of healthy cells, or metastasizing (spreading) to other organs of the body.
They differ from benign tumors, which do not spread or affect other areas of the body.
Risk Factors and Causes
The medical community has studied and debated the causes of malignant tumors for years. Most tumors result from environmental factors or a hereditary/genetic source.
Common environmental risk factors include tobacco (the primary cause of most lung tumors), alcohol, poor diet, poor exercise regimen, and chemical pollutants. A very small percentage of malignant tumors are hereditary.
Signs & Symptoms
A malignant tumor can be detected in a number of ways:
- Local symptoms: Lumps, swelling, hemorrhaging, and acute pain found near the tumor itself are all examples of local symptoms.
- Metastatic symptoms: Enlarged lymph nodes, an enlarged liver (hepatomegaly), and an enlarged spleen (splenomegaly) are common metastatic symptoms, which can be found anywhere in the body if the tumor has spread.
- Systemic symptoms: These are more generic symptoms that may indicate an illness, though not necessarily a malignant tumor. These include excessive sweating (particularly at night), weight loss due to poor appetite, fatigue, anemia, and a host of other common symptoms.
If a tumor is suspected, a pathologist can perform a biopsy on the cells to determine whether or not it is malignant. Medical professionals can do a screening on a patient to detect the presence of some malignant tumors, but this process is not effective for all types. Screenings are also less effective with detecting rare forms of malignant tumors.
The most appropriate course of treatment is determined by the size, location, and stage of the tumor, as well as the patient’s overall health. Chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, and surgery (or combinations of these treatments) are the most common methods offered to patients.
Depending on the location, surgery is sometimes the most effective option to remove the tumor and prevent a recurrence. Some patients add alternative therapies, such as natural remedies, massage, reiki, or dietary changes, to their traditional course of treatment.
It is difficult to predict a patient’s prognosis. Most malignant tumors are considered to be fatal; depending on the location, type, size, and stage of the tumor, the patient’s outlook can vary greatly. In most cases, early detection and treatment will help to improve the patient’s prognosis and prolong their life expectancy.
For more information, contact the American Cancer Society, the American Society for Clinical Oncology or the American Association for Cancer Research for access to these organizations’ wealth of knowledge and resources about malignant tumors.