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Tumor Causes and Treatment

Updated on January 6, 2010

A tumor is any swelling of a body tissue. The swelling associated with a bruise, with bleeding under the skin, with an abscess, or with a cyst is a tumor. In general, however, the word "tumor" is applied to a neoplasm, which is any new growth that arises from a tissue. Tumors are usually distinct from the tissue from which they arise and grow at a rate independent of the tissue's normal rate of growth. Tumors may function in the same way that the tissue functions. However, their presence serves no useful purpose to the organism.


Tumors may be classified in a number of ways. They may be grouped according to their structure, such as cystic tumors and solid tumors. Cystic tumors are basically sacs containing fluid or gelatinous material, and solid tumors are made up of solid masses of cells. Tumors may also be classified according to the type of tissue from which they originate. For example, there are epithelial cell tumors and connective tissue tumors. Epithelial cell tumors arise from glandular structures, and connective tumors arise from supporting tissues, such as bone, muscle, or fibrous or connective tissue.

The most important system, however, classifies tumors as benign or malignant, depending on their behavior and their effect on the organism. Benign tumors tend to grow in an encapsulated fashion. They do not invade the surrounding tissues, nor do they metastasize, or spread to other parts of the body. Benign tumors do not usually recur after they have been removed, and if not removed, they do not tend to lead to the destruction of the organism. Malignant tumors, however, usually grow rapidly and spread into the tissues surrounding them. They also tend to spread through the bloodstream or lymph channels to other parts of the body, where they grow as metastases, or independent tumors. Malignant tumors may recur after removal unless they have been totally removed. If they are not removed, they eventually lead to the death of the organism. Malignant tumors are also referred to as cancers.


The symptoms provoked by tumors depend on a number of factors. The presence of a tumor alone may produce symptoms. For example, either a malignant or a benign tumor in a bone can weaken the bony structure, leading to a tendency for fracture. Both malignant and benign tumors can also cause symptoms by exerting pressure on adjoining or surrounding structures. For example, a large tumor in the neck may press on the esophagus, interfering with swallowing, or on the windpipe, interfering with breathing. Pressure of a tumor on the nerve that supplies the diaphragm can cause paralysis of the diaphragm, and pressure on the nerve that supplies the vocal cords causes hoarseness.

Tumors can also cause symptoms by affecting the functioning tissues from which they arise. For example, a tumor arising from a glandular structure can function itself, inducing symptoms of overfunctioning of the gland. Such symptoms are most likely to occur with benign tumors but may occur with malignant tumors. Conversely, if a tumor arising from a gland does not function, its gradual destruction of the glandular tissue by pressure or invasion may lead to symptoms related to underfunctioning of the gland.

Sometimes tumors cause pain in the area in which they grow by invading nerves or by pressing on nerves. If the tumor bleeds, it can cause anemia or hemorrhage and shock. Bleeding is particularly likely to occur in malignant tumors, most commonly in the intestinal tract, the bladder, or the female reproductive system. In addition, malignant tumors are often associated with symptoms arising from growth of tumor tissues at distant sites. Many cancerous growths may also cause such generalized symptoms as fever, weakness, debility, and loss of weight.


The treatment of tumors depends on their nature, location, and the symptoms they produce. Many benign tumors, such as small fatty tumors under the skin, do not require treatment. However, it is best to remove tumors that cause symptoms or threaten to cause symptoms because of their size or location. Cancerous tumors or tumors that are likely to become cancerous must be treated.

In most cases, treatment involves the surgical removal of the tumor, if possible. However, certain types of tumors are best treated with radiation, administered by X-ray therapy machines or by cobalt or betatron machines, which deliver high-energy radiation. Some tumors can be treated by radiation in the form of radioisotopes or by implanting radium, a radioactive material, in the tumor. Surgical treatment and radiation therapy are often used together to eradicate tumors that cannot be completely removed surgically or when there is a possibility that the tumor tissue has not been completely removed.

Please Note:

  • The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a registered physician or other healthcare professional.

  • The content of this page is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. Do not use this information to disregard medical advice, nor to delay seeking medical advice.

  • Be sure to consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.


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    • urba profile image

      urba 7 years ago from Vilnius, Lithuania

      What about the classification of cancer at genetical level?

      Histologically identical cancers could differ extremly at genetical level...