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What is a Solid Tumor?

By Liz Fernandez
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A solid tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue that is free from cysts or liquid. It can either be benign, meaning non-cancerous, or malignant, meaning cancerous. There are three classes of solid tumors. These are sarcomas, carcinomas and lymphomas. Classification requires identifying the types of cells in a patient’s body.

Sarcomas are cancers formed from the connective tissues in the body, such as bone or muscle. This type of tumor is assigned a grade of low, intermediate or high depending on the cellular characteristics of the cancer. Low-grade sarcomas are usually treated with surgery. Intermediate and high-grade sarcomas are usually treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Carcinomas are born in the body’s glandular and epithelial cells. These cells line the air passages and gastrointestinal tract in the body. Adrenocortical carcinomas arise in the adrenal cortex, which makes hormones that help the body work properly. Thyroid carcinomas arise from the thyroid, which produces hormones that affect heart rate, body temperature, energy level and calcium level. Other carcinomas include nasopharyngeal carcinoma, which affects the upper throat, and skin carcinoma.

Lymphomas arise in the lymphoid organs, which include the lymph nodes, spleen and thymus. These organs are responsible for producing and storing cells that help the body fight infection. Lymphomas are the most common form of blood cancer in the developed world and account for 5.3 percent of all cancers in the United States. People with weakened immune systems, such as HIV patients, have a higher incidence of this type of solid tumor.

There are no clear symptoms for a solid tumor because of the wide variety of organs it can develop in. The symptoms a person feels depends on which organ the cancer has targeted, where in that organ the tumor is located, the rate of growth of cancer cells, and whether the cancer has spread to other organs. This is called metastasis.

A doctor will diagnose a solid tumor by evaluating a patient’s medical history, conducting a physical examination and administering a number of diagnostic tests. X-rays, CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging all provide internal images of a specific area inside the body. A PET scan may be used to check for cancer cells, which appear as dark areas on the scan. Doctors may conduct biopsies to remove tissue and examine it under a microscope.

Treatments for these tumors depend on a number of factors, including the cancer’s location, the stage, and the patient’s health. Options include surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to stop cancer cells from growing. Radiation therapy uses X-rays and other types of radiation to accomplish the same task.

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Discussion Comments

By Lostnfound — On Jul 07, 2014

@Grivusangel -- So true. Ever heard of aggressive inflammatory breast cancer? That's when there's not a discrete tumor, but the cancer is diffused throughout the breast. I've had two co-workers who died from that -- and it's pretty rare.

It's bad because it is so aggressive, and chemo is a 50-50 shot on treating it. Radiation works for a while, but there's only so much radiation one person can have in their lifetimes. Then they have to stop.

One of my friends lived about 5 years after diagnosis (and a stem cell transplant). The other friend died about a year after diagnosis. I miss them both. A solid tumor is certainly preferable in most cases.

By Grivusangel — On Jul 06, 2014

If you're going to have a tumor, though, a solid one is the kind to have. This is because these are usually pretty treatable when caught early. They can frequently be removed with surgery and the surgeon can see he has "clear margins," which means no cancer around the tumor itself.

When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had what's called a ductcal carcinoma in situ -- or a tumor in the milk gland. However, it was caught early -- was only about 2.5 cm (or about the size of a US quarter) and had clear margins. She had a modified radical mastectomy and 26 years later, is still cancer-free, thank the Lord!

Anything that can be removed is preferable to something that only responds to radiation.

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