What is the Difference Between Cancer and a Tumor?


When most people hear the word “tumor,” they immediately think of cancer. And indeed, tumors are often cancerous. However, it’s important to remember that these two terms do not mean the same thing, and the fact that they are often used interchangeably can be extremely misleading. Tumors are not always cancerous, and cancer can take numerous forms in the body.

What Is a Tumor?

The term “tumor” is used regularly in all types of settings, but what a tumor really refers to is a mass. Tumors can either be malignant, which means they are cancerous, or benign, which means they are basically harmless. The term “malignant” is Latin for “badly born”.

Tumors that are cancerous (malignant tumors) are dangerous because they generally spread, which means the cancer spreads. And even if they are removed, they may come back. Furthermore, cancerous tumors are often resistant to treatments that are meant to make them shrink.

In most cases, tumors that are benign will not spread (are localized), and if treated to reduce the size, these types of tumors respond well. In some cases, however, the sheer size of a benign tumor can cause serious health problems. For example, a tumor in the brain that is growing will need to be removed to avoid brain disease or damage.

What Is Cancer?


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The word cancer is Latin for “crab.” The disease was so named because crabs are known to grab and not let go — just like cancer. Also, cancer is generally oddly shaped, just as crabs are. Earlier on HealthyLeo we wrote about 20 foods known to cause cancer.

Cancer is the uncontrollable division of cells in certain areas of the body. These cells are highly unstable, and they create new growth by traveling throughout the body via the circulatory system, blood stream, and lymphatic system.

This new growth invades the tissue around the growth. As cancer is, by definition, “uncontrollable,” the division of cells also spreads to other organs (metastasizes). When untreated or treated too late, this can lead to death.

There are two main types of malignant tumors. First, there are carcinomas, which occur on gland and organ tissue (prostate, thyroid, cervix, lung, or breast). Next, there are sarcomas, which occur on connective tissues of the body (fat, cartilage, tendons, or muscles).

What Are Pre-Cancerous Tumors?

In addition to malignant and benign tumors, there are also “pre-cancerous” tumors. These are somewhere in between malignant and benign tumors in that they have some of the common markers of cancer, but they are not fully cancerous yet. If or when uncontrollable cell growth occurs, the tumor will then be labeled as fully malignant.

Can You Prevent Malignant Tumors?

There is no one-way to prevent malignant or cancerous tumors from forming, nor is there a way to prevent benign tumors. But there are certain preventative measures you can take with your health to be in the best possible position for living a cancer-free life.


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1. Don’t smoke or quit today. Smoking and other tobacco use habits are linked with almost every type of cancer imaginable and especially with lung, esophageal, kidney, mouth, bladder, and pancreatic cancers.

2. Maintain a healthy weight.

3. Eat a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins.

4. Avoid eating sugar as much as possible.

5. Exercise on a regular basis.

6. Keep yourself out of the sun. Worshipping the sun is the best way to get skin-related cancer.

7. Never share needles. This may lead to hepatitis B or C or HIV, which increase your risks for cancer.

8. Practice safe sex all the time. Unprotected sexual contacts may lead to HPV, HIV, or AIDS, which increase the risk for cancer.

9. Avoid excess alcohol consumption.

By following these rules, you’ll have the best chance of a long, healthy, and cancer-free life.