Benign Tumors:Causes, Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Living and coping

Benign tumors are noncancerous growths in the body. Unlike cancerous tumors, they don't invade nearby tissue or spread or metastasize to other parts of the body.

Updated: September 28, 2019

Benign tumors are noncancerous growths in the body. Unlike cancerous tumors, they don't invade nearby tissue or spread or metastasize to other parts of the body.
Benign tumors can occur at any location in our body. You might immediately assume it is cancerous if you discover a lump or mass in your body that can be felt from the outside.
Women who find lumps in their breasts during self-examinations are often benign. Benign growths are extremely common, with 9 out of 10 women showing benign breast tissue changes. Similarly benign bone tumors are also more common than malignant bone tumors. In fact, many growths throughout the body are benign. These abnormal growth of cells that serves no purpose are usually harmless and causes no symptoms. However, benign tumors can be serious if they press on vital structures such as blood vessels or nerves. Therefore, sometimes they require immediate treatment.

Causes of benign tumors:

The exact cause of a benign tumor is often unknown. It develops when cells in the body divide and grow at an excessive rate. Usually, the body itself balance cell growth and division. When old or damaged cells die, they are automatically replaced with new, healthy cells. But if the old cell doesn't die and cells remain as it is, they form a growth known as a tumor. Cancerous cells also grow in the same manner, but can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. The growth of a benign tumor might be linked to:

  • Environmental toxins, such as exposure to radiation
  • Genetics
  • Diet
  • Stress
  • Local trauma or injury
  • Inflammation or infection

Types of Benign Tumors:

There are many different types of benign tumors that can develop in different parts of the body. Benign tumors are classified by their location where they grow. For example, lipomas grow from fat cells, while myomas grow from muscle. Different types of benign tumors are included below:


These are benign tumors starting in the epithelial tissue of a gland or gland like structure. The epithelial tissue is the thin layer of tissue covering organs, glands, and other internal structures. Examples include polyps that form in the colon or growths on the liver. Adenomas might also grow in the adrenal, pituitary, or thyroid gland. Adenomas can often be removed with surgery if required. This type of tumor can become malignant. One out of every 10 adenomas become cancerous in the colon.

Fibromas or fibroids:

These are tumors of fibrous or connective tissue that can grow in any organ. Fibroids commonly grow in the uterus. Although not cancerous, uterine fibroids can lead to heavy vaginal bleeding, bladder problems, or pelvic pain or pressure.
Desmoid tumor is another type of fibrous tissue tumor. These tumors can cause problems by growing into nearby tissues. Fibrous tissue tumors may need to be removed with surgery as they can cause symptoms.


These are a buildup of blood vessel cells in the skin or internal organs. Hemangiomas are a common type of birthmark, which are often seen in the head, neck, or trunk. They may appear red or bluish in color. Most of these go away on their own as you grow older. However, those that interfere with vision, hearing, or eating may require treatment with corticosteroids or other medication.


Lipomas grow from fat cells. They are the most common benign tumor in adults, often found in the neck, shoulders, back, or arms. Lipomas are slow growing, usually round and movable, and soft to the touch. They may run in families and sometimes they result from an injury. Treatment may be needed if a lipoma is painful or growing quickly. This may include steroid shots or removal through liposuction or surgery. Lipoblastomas is other types of benign fat tumors, which occur in young children. Hibernomas is another type of fat tumor.


These are tumors that develop from the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord. These tumors are mostly benign. Many grow slowly, while others grow more quickly. Treatment varies depending on the location of the meningioma and the symptoms it causes. Symptoms may include headache and weakness on one side, seizures, personality changes, and visual problems. Sometimes it is advisable to to watch the tumor for a time. Success rate of a surgery depends on your age, the location of the tumor, and whether it is attached to anything. Radiation treatment may be used for tumors that can't be removed.


These are tumors that grow from muscle. Leiomyomas grow from smooth muscle, which is found in internal organs such as the stomach and uterus. They can start in the walls of blood vessels. Leiomyomas are often called fibroids in the wall of the uterus. Rhabdomyoma is a rare benign tumor of skeletal muscle. These tumors may be simply watched. They may be shrunk with medication or removed with surgery to address symptoms.

Nevi or moles:

These are growths on the skin. They can range in color from pink and tan to brown or black. You may develop new moles until about age 40. Moles that look different than ordinary moles are called as dysplastic nevi and may be more likely to develop into a type of skin cancer or melanoma. Therefore, it is important to have your skin checked regularly by a health care professional. This is especially true if your moles look unusual, grow or change in shape, have irregular borders, or change in color or in any other way. Sometimes it is necessary to remove a mole like this for biopsy to check it for signs of cancer.


Neuromas grow from nerves. Neurofibromas and schwannomas are two other types of nerve tumors. These benign nerve tumors can occur almost anywhere in nerves that run throughout the body. Neurofibromas are more common in people with an inherited condition called neurofibromatosis. Surgery is the most common type of treatment for benign nerve tumors.


These are the most common type of benign bone tumor. These tumors usually appear as a painless bump or bumps near the joint such as the knee or shoulder. Initially it will be watched with X-rays. Surgery may be needed if the tumor causes symptoms such as pain or pressure on nerves or blood vessels.


These are tumors that grow from epithelial tissue and project in finger like fronds. Mostly they are benign, but can be malignant also. They can grow in the skin, cervix, breast duct, or mucous membrane covering the inside of the eyelid or conjunctiva. A from direct contact with an infection such as human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause these type of tumors. Some types of papillomas go away on their own. However, surgery is needed to rule out cancer in some cases.

Symptoms of benign tumors:

Usually benign tumors does not have any symptoms until they press on vital structures such as blood vessels or nerves. Numerous symptoms could affect the function of important organs or the senses depending on the location of tumor. It may cause headaches, vision trouble, and fuzzy memory. The mass may be felt by touch if the tumor is close to the skin or in an area of soft tissue such as the abdomen. Possible symptoms of a benign tumor include:

  • chills
  • discomfort or pain
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • night sweats
  • weight loss

Most benign tumors aren't large enough to cause discomfort or pain. But if they are close to the skin, they may be large enough to detect. Lipomas may be large enough to detect, but are generally soft, movable, and painless which can be removed. Some skin discoloration may indicate the presence of benign tumors that appear on the skin, such as nevi. However, anything that looks abnormal should be evaluated by a doctor. 

Diagnosis of benign tumors:

Different laboratory tests can be done to confirm a benign tumor. These test also help determine if a tumor is benign or malignant. Diagnosis can be start with a physical examination and collecting your medical history.
Internal benign tumors are found and located by various imaging tests, including:

  • CT scans
  • MRI scans
  • mammograms
  • ultrasounds
  • X-rays

Benign tumors often have a visual border of a protective sac that helps doctors diagnose them as benign. Blood tests can be done to check for the presence of cancer markers. A biopsy of the tumor can be done to determine whether it is benign or malignant. The biopsy will be more or less invasive depending on the location of tumor. Skin tumors are easy to remove and only require a local anesthetic, while colon polyps would require a colonoscopy. A stomach tumor may require an endoscopy for example.

Treatment of benign tumors:

Benign tumors need no treatment in many cases. Watchful waiting is used to make sure they cause no problems if the tumor is small and isn't causing any symptoms.
The specific treatment will depend on the location of the tumor if any treatment is required. If it is located on the face or neck, although it is harmless, it may be removed for cosmetic reasons.
Tumors that affect organs, nerves, or blood vessels are commonly removed with surgery to prevent further problems. The goal of treatment is to remove the tumor without damaging surrounding tissues. Tumor surgery is often done using endoscopic techniques. The instruments are contained in tube like devices in this technique which requires smaller surgical incisions if required.
It also has less healing time. In some cases upper endoscopies and colonoscopies are done that require almost no recovery time. After the procedure patients need someone to take them home and will likely sleep for the rest of the day.
Skin tumor biopsies take a few weeks to fully heal. It require basic recovery procedures like changing the bandage and keeping it covered. Recovery time will be more if treatment is more invasive. Recovery from a benign brain tumor removal can take longer. You may also need speech therapy, occupational therapy, or physiotherapy once the tumor is removed to address problems the tumor left behind. Radiation therapy is prescribed if surgery is not possible to help reduce its size or prevent it from growing larger.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, exercising, and eating a balanced diet can prevent health problems including some types of cancers. However, there aren't natural or alternative remedies for benign tumors that develop on their own.

Living and coping with benign tumors:

You can live with benign tumors if they show no symptoms and create no complications. They do not require any treatment. You will have to simply keep an eye on it and watch for changes.
Routine examinations or imaging scans can be done often to ensure that the tumor isn't growing larger. You can live with a benign tumor indefinitely as long as the tumor isn't causing you pain or discomfort, and it isn’t changing or growing.
Although many growths and tumors are benign, it is still advisable to make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you detect a growth or new symptoms that could indicate a tumor. This includes skin lesions or unusual looking moles.
As benign tumors can become cancerous over time, it is always a good idea to see a doctor if you notice any changes in a tumor that was previously diagnosed as benign, including growth or a change in symptoms. Early detection can make all the difference.

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