The Real Difference Between Malignant And Benign Tumors

Finding a lump somewhere on your body where it doesn't belong is a frightening experience for anyone. And 'you've got cancer' are words that we all hope never to hear. But a newly discovered lump or bump is not necessarily cause for serious concern. Many growths, as unsightly or worrisome as they might be, are ultimately harmless and don't require any treatment. But how can you know if a growth is benign (aka noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous)? There are key differences that your healthcare provider will look for.

As scary as the word 'tumor' is, it simply refers to any abnormal mass or growth of cells. In benign tumors, the cells themselves are normal, but the cell activity is not (via Verywell Health). In benign tumors, the cells divide and multiply at an excessive rate, producing a new growth. Many people have benign tumors that they're not even aware of. Benign tumors generally grow slowly, they don't spread or invade surrounding tissue, and are only dangerous if they press against vital organs or nerves, or if their mass restricts blood flow. Fernando U. Garcia, M.D., pathologist at the Cancer Center hospital in Philadelphia, says "Benign tumors don't generally invade. They usually push the normal tissue to the side" (via Cancer Center).

The sooner a tumor is detected, the better

Malignant tumors, on the other hand, are cancerous. Most malignant tumors grow quickly, and cancer cells often split from the original tumor and spread via the bloodstream or lymphatic system to other parts of the body (via Healthline). They can also invade surrounding tissues. Dr. Garcia notes, "Cancer is an evolution. A cancer cell learns how not to die. Then it learns how to proliferate. Then it learns how to invade. Then it learns to metastasize. [Out of control] cells are the building blocks of cancer" (via Cancer Center).

Even though there are normally clear differences between benign and malignant tumors, that's not always the case, and it's possible to have an uncertain diagnosis (via Verywell Health). If you find an unexpected lump somewhere on your body, it's important to get it looked at quickly by your doctor. Whether a tumor turns out to be benign or malignant, the earlier it's detected, the better the chances it can be treated effectively.