What Is the Difference Between a Tumor and a Cyst?
What Is the Difference Between a Tumor and a Cyst?
There have been almost 2,000,000 new cancer cases in 2022. Cancer is frightening, and this leads many people to panic when they notice a new lump or bump on their bodies.
Most lumps and bumps are cysts and tumors. But what’s the difference between a tumor and a cyst? How can you identify them, and what should you do if you find one?
We’re here to answer these questions and more. Read on for a brief explanation of both cysts and tumors.
What Is a Tumor?
Your cells are always replacing themselves. As cells die, new cells grow in their place to keep your body running. This is a natural process that almost always works the same way and operates at a specific pace.
Sometimes, however, things go wrong. Cells start growing faster than other cells can die. Instead of replacing healthy cells, they’re forming lumps and growths.
Many people only think of tumors as they relate to cancer, but the majority of tumors are benign. This doesn’t make them less worrisome, however, and if you think that you may have a tumor, it’s important that you visit a doctor.
Signs of a Tumor
So how will you know if you have a tumor?
To be clear, you can only know for sure if you have a tumor if you visit a doctor. If you do have a tumor, you’ll only know if it’s cancerous if you get a biopsy. If you notice any of these symptoms, don’t panic.
Visible tumors are lumps or bumps that are firm to the touch. You may be able to feel them when you press against your skin, even if you can’t see them. Tumors in the breasts, for example, are often only noticeable if you give yourself a breast exam (which you should do often).
The tumor won’t move around when you touch it.
Tumors often appear suddenly because of quick cell growth. You may wake up one morning with a noticeable lump that wasn’t there the night before.
Note that not all sudden lumps are tumors. Your lump could be a bug bite, swelling, a cyst, or a variety of other smaller problems. Pay attention to it, and if it’s growing, contact a mental professional.
Types of Tumors
There are many different types of tumors, but for the purpose of this guide, we’re going to break them down into three categories: benign, malignant, and premalignant.
Benign tumors are non-cancerous. They won’t spread after forming, and they aren’t likely to cause serious harm (though a benign tumor could press up against another part of the body and cause problems). It’s still a good idea to have a medical professional evaluate and potentially remove a benign tumor.
Benign tumors can also turn into premalignant or malignant tumors, but this isn’t the norm. If a doctor removes a benign tumor, it will be gone for good most of the time.
Premalignant tumors are tumors that aren’t yet malignant but have a high chance of becoming malignant. If you have a premalignant tumor, a doctor may recommend removal or they may just monitor its growth.
Cancerous tumors are malignant. They have the potential to spread throughout the body and they can be life-threatening. These tumors need to be removed.
Causes of Tumors
As we mentioned, tumors happen when the body is producing more cells than it needs to replace dying cells. Anyone of any age can develop a tumor, but there are a few risk factors that may make tumors more likely.
A family history of tumors (especially cancerous tumors) may make it more likely for someone to develop one of their own. Doctors recommend that people with family histories of breast cancer get regular breast exams, for example.
Certain life choices and environmental conditions increase the chances of developing cancerous tumors. These include, among other things:
- Drinking alcohol
- Exposure to asbestos
Some health conditions make people more likely to develop tumors. These include:
- Von Hippel Lindau disease
- Gene mutations
Tumor Treatment Options
So how do you treat a tumor once a doctor has diagnosed it?
If the tumor is benign and not causing problems, you don’t have to get treatment at all if you don’t want it. If a tumor is growing and it’s in an area where it could cause damage, however, your doctor may recommend surgical removal.
Radiation therapy is another option for tumor removal. It will destroy abnormal cells and hopefully prevent future growth.
Immunotherapy encourages your natural immune system to fight off cancer. Chemotherapy can shrink a tumor before removal or remove any excess cells that were left over after surgery.
Your doctor can help you decide what the best removal option is for you.
What Is a Cyst?
Cysts are pockets of tissue that can pop up anywhere on your body. Most f the time, cysts are no cause for concern. They can be painful and unsightly, but the majority of cysts are noncancerous and some may go away on their own.
Many people mistake cysts for either pimples or tumors. While they have some resemblance to both of those (and some acne can be cystic), they’re their own condition.
So how do you know if you have a cyst?
If the cyst is visible, it will look and feel like a lump under your skin. Many cysts are small enough that they’re difficult to notice. Others are large enough to be visible even from a distance.
The lump may be squishy or firm.
There are also cysts that form within the body (such as ovarian or kidney cysts). People won’t often notice these internal cysts unless they start causing symptoms.
Cysts usually aren’t painful. If your skin lump is inflamed or weeping, it’s a sign of infection. Infected cysts look similar to large pimples.
Types of Cysts
As with tumors, there are many types of cysts. Many of them present similarly, so it’s helpful to visit a doctor if you’re unable to identify it, even if it’s not causing any problems.
Common types of cysts include:
- Breast cysts
- Cystic acne
- Ovarian cysts
- Pilonidal cysts
- Sebaceous cysts
- Ganglion cysts
This is an incomplete list. All cysts have different contents, treatment methods, and potential complications.
Causes of Cysts
So what causes cysts anyway?
While cysts and tumors are different, it is possible (though uncommon) for tumors to cause cysts.
Certain genetic conditions can make someone more likely to develop cysts. It’s also possible for abnormal embryonic growth to cause cysts.
External factors, such as parasites and even poorly done or cared-for piercings can cause cysts. Anything that can obstruct the flow of oils or fluids can result in cyst formation.
Cyst Treatment Options
So how do you treat a cyst?
Some cysts will go away on their own. These cysts may feel uncomfortable for a while, but if you leave them alone, they’ll fade.
If a skin cyst is causing you trouble but you don’t feel as though a visit to the doctor is necessary, you can try at-home cyst treatment options. Resist the urge to pop the cyst or cut it open at home. This could spread the infection and make the problem worse.
Make sure the area stays clean. Wash it gently with soap and water at least once per day.
Hot water rinses or compresses can help as well. Sitting in a hot bath or holding a warm washcloth against the cyst can ease your discomfort and encourage the cyst to heal more quickly.
If the cyst starts to drain, don’t panic. Keep a clean bandage over it and continue to clean it regularly until it’s no longer visible.
At-home methods may not completely remove cysts, but they can reduce discomfort.
If your cyst is causing problems or not going away on its own, you should seek medical treatment. In many cases, the doctor can drain the cyst and remove the casing in a single visit.
Some cysts require surgical removal. Internal cysts, such as ovarian cysts, fall into this category.
That’s the Difference Between a Tumor and a Cyst
There’s more than one difference between a tumor and a cyst. If you’re wondering about a mysterious lump, the only way that you can know for sure what you’re dealing with is to contact your doctor.
Remember: most cysts and tumors are harmless. Don’t panic, but seek medical help as soon as possible if you’re concerned.
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