Wednesday, 14 November 2012

When is a Cancer not Cancer? Or is it also 'Benign' ?.

Interesting debate on the net - should all brain tumours be considered and called 'cancer'?  Even the low grade ones? The moniker 'brain tumour' rather than 'brain cancer' doesn't always indicate that whatever tumour one has in the skull, it can still be potentially fatal. My problem is mine is 'Grade 1' and so far non-malignant, so should I call it 'cancer'? Opinion is divided, that cancer is an emotive word and in respect to brain tumours, public opinion would have it that you're automatically dead! But then public reaction to the word 'cancer' can seem that way with any form, despite curative treatment and  increased survivability with some.

The other opinion is of course that any brain tumour no matter how slow growing, is cancerous and the word 'benign' is a misnomer. Cancer to me is where the growth of mutated tissue invades and changes the nature of the affected organ/body part cells by spreading within it. Benign is where the tumour remains in its own space but pressing against against the organ/body part, with the possibility of impnging surrounding tissue as opposed to invading it. Both scenarios are not good with fatality often being the end result with most if not treated, no matter how long term or slow that growth may be.

If opinions are correct about all brain tumours being 'cancerous' then certainly Algy by the very fact that he is growing could be considered a 'cancer'. In any event, within the skull and spine, tumours are even more damaging as there is no room for expansion and therefore tissue damage is greater what ever the level of aggression and invasion/impingement.

A sobering thought!

A link to a defintion of benign brain tumours.


  1. Hi,

    I have a quick question about your blog, would you mind emailing me when you get a chance?




  2. Hi - very interesting blog, thanks. Your thoughts echo mine.

    My 'benign' tumour was found, purely by chance, four years ago whilst being investigated for something else. Repeated scans indicated either no or very little growth and there was even a view that the 'lesion' (another term) had been there since birth - I'm 52, by the way, and otherwise pretty healthy. As the mass wasn't growing, I didn't even bother to have a biopsy, given the risks (albeit very small) from the procedure (stroke etc) and the inconvenience of not being able to drive for 6 months. I should also say that I’ve had quite a few operations involving general anaesthetics (12 in fact), so I certainly wasn’t scared about that element. I just waited and got used to having this little cocktail sausage-sized lump inside me that shouldn’t be there. The 3-monthly scan interval moved to 6 months, then to annual and bi-annual. In January 2013, however, I was told that my sausage had grown – trebled in size. So I've now had the biopsy and am waiting for the results.

    The fascinating thing is the whole use of terminology and what I believe is a complete misnomer in the use of the term benign, certainly for brain tumours. A mass in your body that grows, no matter how slowly, is just not 'mild, kind or gentle' (as per dictionary definitions). Even medical definitions of the word benign state 'of no danger to health'. As you quite rightly say, in the confines of your skull, anything that grows, even if it doesn't invade other cells, is going to cause a problem due to the pressure.

    The other fact that really intrigued me was that grade 2 tumours could transform to grade 3 or 4. Now I reckon that most people being told that they are walking over an extinct or dormant volcano know what the risks are. They’d be pretty miffed if that dormant volcano blew up in their face. And that’s just the point. Benign means benign. Benign doesn’t harm you, even if slowly. It also doesn’t sometimes change into something that does. This doesn’t mean that we should be alarmed about having so-called benign grade 1 or 2 tumours, but it would be a great help in this age of information if we weren’t misled.

    All the best.



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