About Tumours and Cancers

What is a tumour?

The word tumour is derived from the Latin word for ‘swelling’. Tumour is a general term used by doctors to describe a lump or swelling. The medical term for a tumour is a neoplasm which can be solid or filled with fluid. A tumour is not necessarily cancerous. Tumours can be described in the following way:-

  • Benign (not cancerous)
  • Pre-malignant (pre-cancerous)
  • Malignant (cancerous)

What is a schwannoma?

A schwannoma (pronounced sh-won-oma) is a tumour of the tissue covering the nerves. This type of tumour consists only of schwann cells, hence the name. Schwannomas are often benign, the most common type of schwannoma is the vestibular schwannoma, more commonly known as an acoustic neuroma.

What is a lesion?

A lesion is another general term used by doctors usually when describing findings from x-rays, CT scans and MRI. It is derived from the Latin word ‘laesio’ which means injury. It is a descriptive term to identify an abnormal finding on an x-ray or during a physical examination.

How do tumours cause facial palsy?

There are different ways in which tumours can cause facial paralysis:

  • A tumour may involve the facial nerve directly.
  • A tumour may be situated close to the facial nerve and put pressure on it, as it increases in size.
  • Surgical removal of a tumour close to the facial nerve may result in the facial nerve becoming damaged or completely severed.

What different kinds of tumour are there?

There are several different types of tumour including:

Tumours and facial palsy

Tumours near or on the facial nerve can cause facial paralysis. Malignant (cancerous) tumours in the face, head or neck may also cause facial paralysis either as a direct result of the tumour itself or in the process of removing the tumour.

The word cancer often causes alarm because this type of tumour can spread to other organs in the body. However a tumour may be benign (not cancerous) but may still be harmful because of its location and the destruction it can cause to the surrounding structures. A benign tumour cannot spread to other organs in the body. It is therefore unlikely to be life threatening unless positioned close to the brain stem where vital bodily functions are controlled.

Malignant tumours

Malignant (cancerous) tumours can be described as primary or secondary. A primary cancer is where the cancer started. If some of the cancer cells break away from the primary cancer and settle in another part of the body this cancer is then called a secondary cancer. Secondary cancers are made up of the same type of cells as the primary cancer. So, if you have breast cancer that has spread to the brain, you have primary breast cancer with secondary breast cancer in the brain.

The term metastasis means the spread of the disease from one organ to another organ further away in the body.

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Last reviewed: 17-11-2016    ||    Next review due: 17-11-2018