When relatives do not want me to tell the patient that he has cancer, I use the words “tumor” or “malignant” or “bukol” or “cancerous” to describe to them what they have.
When patients hear the word tumor, it always sends shivers down their spine. A tumor is often associated with cancer but NOT ALL TUMORS ARE CANCER. However, most cancers manifest in the form a tumor.
A tumor simply means a new growth or growing mass in the body. A tumor is not always synonymous with cancer. It simply means that there is something growing in the patient’s body.
A tumor can be BENIGN or MALIGNANT. It means that a tumor can be a cancer or not. A benign tumor is never malignant and a malignant tumor is never benign while a malignant tumor is always cancer and a cancer is always malignant.
A benign tumor is similar to a malignant tumor in the sense that both are forming a mass which is growing in the patient’s body. However, a benign tumor remains in its original place where it started growing, it does not metastasize or migrate to other parts of the body, it does not invade or infiltrate other structures and is rarely life-threatening. A malignant tumor is the opposite of all these things.
A benign tumor is always managed by surgery but it often ends after that. After a benign tumor has been surgically removed, there is usually no follow-up treatment necessary while malignant tumors/cancer may require several modalities of treatment such as surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy.
A benign tumor is not cancer but a malignant tumor is. Benign is not a term that we use to describe cancer. Instead, we use malignant.
Can a benign tumor transform to cancer or become cancer at a later time? It can but not very often.
Cancerous is a term which is in-between. It is a term that is resorted to by doctors who do not have the courage to tell the truth or patients who have not yet quite accepted what they have. Cancerous is when a tumor has gone beyond benign but not yet definitely cancer. It has a greater tendency to evolve into cancer and has to be monitored very aggressively.