Difference Between Tumor and Cancer

Main Difference – Tumor vs Cancer

Tumor and Cancer are two terms we often hear in day to day life of modern days, but  they are strong enough to give us goosebumps since they can simply make us lose someone we love. In contrast, some people may tend to think that the small tumor or lump they have been having for a long period of time is innocent and won’t do anything bad for their health, which is the dangerous aspect of it. Although both tumor and cancer sound similar to each other, they are not.  The main difference between tumor and cancer is that tumor can be benign or malignant whereas cancer usually starts with a malignant tumor.

Here, we will present,

1. What is a Tumor? – Definition, Benign and Malignant Tumors, Treatment Options

2. What is Cancer? – Definition, Treatment Options

3. Difference Between Tumor and Cancer

Difference Between Tumor and Cancer - Tumor vs Cancer Comparison Summary

What is a Tumor

According to the definition provided by International Cancer Institute, a tumor is a non-specific term which refers to an abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should.

Tumors can be benign (innocent) or malignant (cancer), and it is important to carry out a biopsy of the affected tissue in order to decide if a suspicious growth is benign or malignant.

Benign tumors are innocent or non-cancerous tumors which are usually localized and do not spread to different parts of the body and result in metastasis. Most benign tumors respond well to treatment, but if left untreated can give rise to serious complications due to their increased size. Eg. Pressure and obstructive signs and symptoms. Benign tumors can also mimic malignant tumors, so it is important to make a correct diagnosis as soon as possible since earliest interventions are definitely helpful in avoiding fatal scenarios.

Malignant tumors, on the other hand,  are cancerous and could be fatal. They are usually resistant to treatment, grow rapidly and spread to various parts of the body, especially to lungs and liver and often recur even after the complete removal due to the aggressive cellular division.

Not all tumors are fatal. Some oncologists suggest the removal of benign tumors due to possible complications like recurrence and obstructive or pressure symptoms, disrupting the patient’s lifestyle. However, the type of surgery and the time of intervention will be decided based on the location and size of the tumor.Main Difference -  Tumor vs  Cancer

What is Cancer

International Cancer institute has defined Cancer as a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.

Cancer is a genetic disease which can be passed from generation to generation due to inherited abnormalities in DNA responsible for cellular division. In addition, various environmental agents, UV light from sun rays, radiation, tobacco smoke and viruses can also cause cancers.

Treatment options available for cancer mainly consists of the surgical removal of cancerous growth, Chemotherapy or using of powerful chemical substances to kill rapidly growing abnormal cells and radiation therapy which uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells by destroying their DNA patterns. According to latest research studies, gene therapy can also be used in altering the gene types, there itself, which is effective when compared to most traditional modalities.Difference Between Tumor and Cancer

Difference Between Tumor and Cancer


The main difference between these two terms is hidden inside the definitions themselves;

A tumor is a development of a lesion or lump in your body due to an abnormal cellular growth

Cancer gives the idea that this cellular growth is uncontrollable and has a chance of spreading all over the body.


In simpler terms, all tumors are not cancerous, and a tumor is said to be cancer only if it owns the features of a malignant type, by means of metastasis and abnormal cellular division. In fact, a tumor may or may not turn into a malignancy, depending on several other factors.

Cancer usually starts with a malignant tumor. However, some cancers may not be caused tumors. For example, Blood cancers or Leukemia is not developed by a primary tumor such as a lesion or lump.


Benign tumor cells do not spread to other parts of the body

Cancer cells have a rapid distribution throughout of the body, resulting in metastasis.

Mode of Intervention

The other main difference is the mode of intervention for tumors and cancer.

Most of the time, tumors can be treated by watchful waiting or surgical removing and getting rid of the possible complications.

Cancer will always need medical or surgical interventions to avoid life-threatening scenarios. Major treatment options available for cancer include surgical removal, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.

Image Courtesy:

“Diagram showing how cancer cells keep on reproducing to form a tumor CRUK 127” By Cancer Research UK – Original email from CRUK (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia

“Diagram showing cancer cells spreading into the blood stream CRUK 448” By Cancer Research UK uploader – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia 


About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music