Many of us have often ignored unusual swellings in our body (which I commonly refer to lumps and bumps), only to find out later that they deserved more attention than ignorance. These lumps and bumps should not be ignored as they may be the first symptom of an underlying malignant process.
Do all lumps and bumps need attention?
You do not have to worry about all lumps all the time. Small swellings (commonly less than a centimetre) in an otherwise healthy individual, which had been present through the years should not be of much concern. Also lumps following a trauma or acute injury or an infectious process needs to be differentiated from those which have malignant potentials.
Which lumps do we need to worry about?
- Lumps which were present for a long time but suddenly start increasing in size or those associated with pain, redness, bleeding or discharge of pus and foul smells, needs urgent medical attention
- Lumps which are hard to feel and irregular to touch. Contrary to the common belief that cancerous lumps are painful, most of the malignant lumps are painless at presentation.
- Lumps which are associated with similar lump or bumps elsewhere in body.
- Lumps associated with systemic symptoms like a lump in your belly associated with jaundice or blood vomiting (hematemesis), malena (passage of black stools), nausea and vomiting, anorexia (loss of appetite) and weight loss.
- Lumps which are associated with ulcers and not responding to usual treatment with medications should be viewed with suspicion and in those cases, a biopsy should be taken.
- Lumps in an individual who had past history of cancer treatment or has a strong family history of cancer-can suggest a new or recurrent cancer disease.
- Lumps in certain body parts are easy to pick up and should never be ignored. Examples are a lump in breast, lump in neck, lump in the belly or lump in scalp or lump in the mouth or lump in your private parts.
What do we do if we have a lump?
- Do not panic.
- Get a medical check up and medical consultation at the earliest.
Are all bumps cancerous?
No not at all, most of them are benign which means they may be left alone. Examples are a dermoid cyst a sebaceous cyst,a papilloma or a lipoma. Most of them can be cured and require surgical excision or observation on case by case basis.
Do we require blood tests for diagnosis of lumps and bumps?
Not always, lumps and bumps can be easily diagnosed by clinical examination and do not always require a blood test. However, such test may be done to check the general health status of the patient. Sometimes radiological imaging may be advised to assist in diagnosis.
What are the 5 important risk factors for lumps associated with malignancy?
- Strong history of smoking (almost for all cancers)
- Strong history of tobacco product consumption (common for oral cavity cancers)
- Age and gender (common for breast cancers which often develop in elderly females)
- Heavy alcohol intake ( related to hepatobiliary cancers)
- Occupational exposure and personal history of cancer.