An abdominal tumor is an irregular mass of abnormal cells that is located in the middle of the body, including the stomach, abdominal wall, and parts of the intestines. They can be either benign, which is usually slow growing and harmless; malignant, which is cancerous; or pre-malignant, which could turn into cancer. The causes, symptoms, and treatment for these growths can vary greatly, but cancers related to this area often have a poorer prognosis than many other types. Common types of intra-abdominal masses include kidney, colon, pancreatic, bladder, neuroblastoma, and ovarian tumors, as well as cysts and abscesses.
Tumors in the abdomen usually don't create many obvious symptoms, especially when they're in the early stages. If the mass grows or spreads, a person may experience swelling and pain, diarrhea, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, bad breath, and digestive problems. A malignancy may also cause fatigue, fever, and blood in the stool. Some types of tumors have more specific symptoms associated with them: for instance, people with liver masses often become jaundiced, and those with ovarian tumors may have painful menstruation or pain during intercourse. Likewise, those with bladder growths may have a hard time urinating, and those with kidney cysts often have high blood pressure.
Causes and Risk Factors
The causes and risk factors for abdominal masses generally include things that stress or damage the organ they're in or around. For instance, persistent heartburn or ulcers is a risk factor for stomach cancer, while having hepatitis or chronic alcoholism raises a person's chances of liver tumors. Besides this, the general risk factors for most cancers also apply. Family history may play a role, along with environmental concerns, such as exposure to toxic chemicals or pollution. Poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and stomach polyps may also heighten the risk of getting an abdominal tumor. Regular exercise and a healthy diet, which includes the antioxidants found in many fruits and vegetables, may help reduce the risk for developing a mass.
Since most abdominal tumors don't cause symptoms, many are inadvertently discovered by a healthcare professional during a routine medical exam. Further evaluation is typically needed to gather information about the mass and determine if it even is a tumor, since things like swollen organs or fecal impactions can feel similar. A Computer Tomography (CT) scan or Magnetic Resonance Imagining (MRI) study is commonly used to get a clear picture of the growth. A biopsy and blood tests may be needed to determine if a mass is benign, malignant or pre-malignant.
Healthcare providers can also use information from patients about the location of tenderness or pain to help narrow down the type of growth they have. They generally divide the abdomen into 4 quadrants — right upper, right lower, left upper, and left lower — and may also describe a mass as epigastric, meaning that it is in the area just below the ribs, or periumbilical, meaning that it is in the area around the navel. If a patient reported having epigastric pain, he or she might have a pancreatic mass, while if he or she reported having pain in the right upper quadrant he or she might have a liver cyst.
The specific treatment for an abdominal tumor depends on several factors, including the type, size, location, and cause of the growth, and whether it has spread. Healthcare providers typically perform surgery to remove a malignant abdominal tumor. In these cases, treatment providers usually combine surgery with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Although less serious than a malignancy, a benign mass may still require treatment. If it is large enough, it could interfere with nearby organs or regular bodily functions, such as digestion, so surgical removal may be needed. Usually, benign tumors do not grow back or require further treatment after being removed.
A cancerous tumor in the abdomen can be a serious and life-threatening problem — in fact, stomach cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. This is mostly because noticeable symptoms do not occur until the disease is quite advanced. For this reason, healthcare providers typically evaluate any lump found in the area. Even if a mass is small and not causing problems, it is better to be cautious, because if a tumor is malignant, an early diagnosis and prompt treatment may lead to a better prognosis.