The Difference Between Adenoma and Malignant Tumors


Image: Shutterstock/ David Litman

Tumors are a fairly common medical condition, especially as you age. And while developing any kind of tumor can be frightening, not every type of tumor is cause for serious concern. In fact, there are many different kinds of tumors. And while many can be dangerous, some, like adenomas, are really nothing to be that worried about.

An adenoma is essentially a benign form of tumor that carries little risk of becoming cancerous. That makes them distinct from other forms of tumors that are often malignant, or cancerous. So, what exactly causes an adenoma? How is it different from other, dangerous tumors? And what can you do to treat them?

What Is An Adenoma?

An adenoma is a form of tumor that can grow¬†inside a number of different organs. You see, an adenoma is formed, like any tumor, when the cells inside the body begin to multiply rapidly. Your body is made up of trillions of cells, each performing their own role. Every day, these cells die and need to be replaced. And so, your body’s cells are reproducing constantly as they replicate themselves.

The process by which cells replicate is encoded in your DNA. But sometimes, the DNA controlling this replication gets damaged. When that happens, the cells can begin to multiply rapidly. As the cells build up, they form a solid mass of tissue called a tumor.

There are a lot of different reasons that this happens. Many times, it is simply spontaneous. Your DNA replicates billions of times a day, and at any point, something can go wrong with the natural systems your body has in place to keep your DNA consistent. This is usually what happens with adenoma and that’s one of the key differences between adenoma and other tumors.

Adenoma And Other Tumors

Adenomas are different than other tumors because they occur in the glands of the body. Other forms of tumors can occur in any tissue of the body like the skin, mouth, or even bones. Adenomas are almost always benign, which means that they grow slowly and rarely begin to destroy other kinds of cells.

But other forms of tumors can be malignant. Malignant tumors grow rapidly and begin to spread throughout the body, destroying vital organs and causing cancer. Like adenomas, these cancerous growths often occur spontaneously. But there are also many things that can damage the DNA and lead to cancerous tumors like smoking, drinking alcohol, and even UV light from the sun.

Adenomas, unlike cancerous tumors, are rarely a cause for medical concern. In most cases, they don’t even lead to any noticeable symptoms. But adenomas can¬†cause symptoms when they grow in areas where they are likely to interfere with the functioning of your vital organs.

For instance, they can often grow on the pituitary glands. And the extra pressure from these tumors then causes the glands to secrete excess hormones, which can interfere with the way your body works. And they can also affect the adrenal glands, causing your body to excrete too much of the stress hormone cortisol. This can lead to a disease calling Cushing syndrome which leads to weight gain around the midsection, fatigue, irritability, depression, and mood swings.

And these types of cancers can occur inside the colon, where they can lead to painful bowel obstructions resulting in constipation and abdominal pain.

In these cases, adenomas need to be treated. So if you’re experiencing any of these types of symptoms, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.

How Are They Treated?

Doctors usually diagnose these types of tumors by ordering an imaging test like an x-ray or CT scan. The tumors are usually visible on these types of imaging tests, which means that a doctor can diagnose them by looking at the results.

The treatment depends on where the tumor is located and whether or not it is causing any symptoms. For small tumors that grow away from important glands, doctors often suggest simply monitoring it for any signs of growth. Tumors that grow slowly usually don’t have much risk of becoming cancerous, which means there’s no need to remove them.

But for fast growing tumors, or ones that occur in areas where they are likely to become cancerous, like the colon, should be removed. The primary method for removing tumors is with surgery.

A surgeon can often remove small tumors fairly easily. But for larger tumors, or tumors located in an area where a surgeon can’t remove enough tissue to completely get rid of the tumor, there is often a risk of the tumor growing back more aggressively. As always, it’s best to assess the risks of surgery with your doctor.

So, do you have an experience with a tumor? What did you do to treat it? Let us know in the comments.