Can Benign Tumors Become Cancerous? Interventional Radiologist Explains

benign skin tumor

It’s only natural to be scared if you’re diagnosed with a tumor. After all, there’s no such thing as a “good tumor”.

But it is still possible to receive some good news after that, such as your doctor confirming that the tumor is benign, not cancerous, and not life-threatening.

That’s a great relief. But if you’re still concerned about benign tumors being cancerous and other questions boggling your mind, you’ve come to the right page.

Can a benign tumor become cancerous? Do you need surgery to remove it?

Keep reading to find out the answer straight from Dr. Matthew Dicker, an Interventional Radiologist of Vascular and Interventional Specialists of Prescott!

How Tumors Grow

Can Benign Tumors Become Cancerous?

According to the definition of the National Cancer Institute, a tumor is an abnormal growth of tissues when cells don’t divide or die accordingly. 

Dr. Matthew Dicker explains that tumors grow due to a defect in the DNA of cells, especially genes that control cells’ growth. 

“Some damaged genes can stop a programmed cell death to make way for healthier, new cells. Tumors grow rapidly if these cells learn how to prevent themselves from dying.”

The cells’ death is just as crucial as their development. Tumors are likely to grow if the balance between cell growth and death disrupts. 

Not all tumors are made of cancerous cells. Some mutations can be slow and benign, while others can be malignant (cancerous), invade nearby tissue, and destroy them.

Benign tumors are usually noninvasive, as per Dr. Dicker. But in unfortunate cases, they can become cancerous. Continue reading to learn more about these benign growths.

[Related: What Causes Tumors?]

What Is a Benign Tumor?

A benign tumor is a mass made up of abnormal cells that can’t spread to other areas of the body or invade nearby normal tissue, unlike malignant tumors. 

The growth of benign tumors could be linked to:

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

Dr. Matthew Dicker says that initial imaging, lab tests, and biopsy are needed to detect a tumor and determine whether it is benign or malignant.

Unlike malignant tumors, most benign tumors can be surgically removed easily. There are also cases when they don’t need to be removed at all. 

“Most benign tumors aren’t life-threatening. They can be left alone as they are unlikely to cause damage to any other areas of your body. In fact, many individuals carry benign tumors that don’t require treatment, such as moles, throughout their lives.”

Common Types of Benign Tumors

Benign Soft Tissue Tumors

These are some types of noncancerous soft tissue tumors that can be found in various parts of the body, according to the American Cancer Society:

  • Fibromas: noncancerous abnormal growths of fibrous tissue or connective tissue of any organ
  • Granular cell tumors: usually detected in adults that often start in the tongue but can be found almost anywhere in the body
  • Hemangiomas: benign tumors of blood vessels
  • Hibernomas: benign growths of fat tissue
  • Lipomas: noncancerous tumors that grow from fat cells
  • Leiomyomas: benign tumors of smooth muscle that can be found anywhere in the body but are very common in the walls of the uterus where they are known as fibroids
  • Lipoblastomas: benign fat tissue tumors that are most often seen in children
  • Lymphangiomas: noncancerous tumors of lymph vessels
  • Neurofibromas: tumors of nerve tissue that are usually benign. 
  • Neuromas: tumors of nerves that can be benign but painful
  • PEComas: a family of tumors made up of abnormal cells called perivascular epithelial cells. Although most of these are benign, some rare PEComas are malignant tumors (cancer). 
  • Rhabdomyomas: benign growths of skeletal and heart muscle
  • Tenosynovial giant cell tumors (also called nodular tenosynovitis): benign tumors of joint tissue

Benign Skin Tumors

Nevi tumor

Nevi tumors are moles that grow anywhere on the body. They can vary in size, shape, and color. 

If a mole has grown or changed in color, size, or spread to other areas of the body, ask your doctor to provide medical advice. This could indicate skin cancer and may need to be removed.

Other Types of Noncancerous Skin Tumors 

  • Seborrheic keratoses
  • Dermatofibromas
  • Dermoid cyst
  • Freckles
  • Keloids

Benign Bone Tumors

Osteochondromas

The most common benign tumor for young children and adults is the osteochondromas. This occurs when there is an excess of bone and cartilage. Common symptoms include pain in the joints or muscles, shortened limbs, and hard masses. 

Osteochondromas are usually not painful and don’t require treatment. An X-ray can also show the tumor’s location and help determine if medication or surgery may be necessary.

Other Types of Noncancerous Bone Tumors

  • Bone-forming (osteoid osteoma, osteoblastoma, fibrous dysplasia, enostosis)
  • Cartilage-forming (osteochondroma, enchondroma)
  • Idiopathic (giant cell tumor, aneurysmal bone cyst, simple bone cyst)

Diagnosis of Benign Tumors

Early diagnosis of benign tumors is crucial so your doctor can help you plan the treatment accordingly. 

According to Dr. Dicker, imaging tests like X-ray, ultrasound, and CT scans are used to screen patients suspected of tumors.

If a tumor is detected, doctors will then perform the next diagnostic test, which may include:

  • Laboratory tests to determine the levels of hormones in blood and urine.
  • Biopsy to determine whether the growth is a benign or malignant tumor.

[Learn more about tumor diagnosis and treatment

Treatment for Benign Tumors

Many benign tumors don’t require treatment. Once detected, your doctor may observe you from time to time to ensure that the tumors aren’t causing any problems.

Treatments like medication, radiation therapy, or surgery may be necessary if symptoms become severe. Surgical procedures are typically done to remove the growths and prevent them from damaging surrounding tissues and becoming malignant.

How to Live and Cope With Benign Tumors

A benign tumor can be left untreated and lived with indefinitely as long as it doesn’t cause you pain, discomfort, or complications.

Your doctor will keep an eye on the tumor and monitor for any changes. You’ll be asked to come in for routine exams or imaging scans if your tumor hasn’t grown.  

When Should You See Your Doctor?

It is a good idea for you to see your doctor immediately if you notice any unusual symptoms or growths that might indicate cancer. This applies to skin lesions and unusual-looking moles. 

“Early detection is key for preventing the growth of cancerous cells of some benign tumors,” Dr. Dicker emphasized.

VISP’s interventional radiologists are highly skilled in performing minimally invasive procedures for diagnosing and treating tumors.

Call us now to make an appointment!