Formula Medical Group
Apple Valley, CA

James Krider, MD

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Lumps, abdominal

A lump or mass in the abdomen is an uncommon finding that could indicate a serious problem, particularly if it is accompanied by weight loss, anemia, and pain. All abdominal lumps are not necessarily malignant tumors, however; other intestinal disorders can also produce abdominal swelling or lumps.

Causes of abdominal lumps

Abdominal hernia
A hernia occurs when an internal organ protrudes through a weakness or abnormal opening in the muscle around it. The most common sign of an abdominal hernia is a swelling or mass that usually disappears when it is gently pressed or when the person lies down. Mild discomfort or pain sometimes appears at the site of the lump. The lump results from a protrusion of the small intestine through a weak section of the muscle wall. Abdominal hernias in an older child or adult are usually repaired with surgery. Most umbilical hernias in babies resolve themselves.

Crohn's disease
Also known as regional enteritis, this is an inflammatory disease of the lower part of the small intestine and the colon. Its characteristic symptoms are cramping abdominal pain, especially after eating; nausea and diarrhea; a tender abdominal mass; loss of appetite and weight; and, in some cases, bloody stools. The precise cause is unknown, but it is believed to be an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks body tissue. The symptoms may come and go, varying in severity.


Other signs and symptoms usually accompany the development of malignant tumors, many of which can spread to abdominal organs. These warning signs may be apparent before you can feel a growth in the abdomen. Com­ mon warning signs of cancer include:

  • A change in bowel or bladder habits.
  • A sore that does not heal.
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge.
  • Thickening or lumps under the skin.
  • Indigestion or difficulty swallowing.
  • A change in the appearance of a wart or mole.
  • Nagging cough or persistent hoarseness.

Hernias can be at the belly button or in the groin.

This condition results from the presence of small, sac­like outpouches called diverticula in the wall of the colon. They are usually symptomless unless they become inflamed, which can result in abdominal cramps, tenderness, fever, and nausea. The abdomen becomes distended, particularly on the lower left side. Diverticulosis is rarely life threatening unless an out­pouch ruptures and allows the colon contents to spill into the abdominal cavity, resulting in peritonitis. Treatment involves dietary modification, medication, and sometimes surgery.

Kidney cancer
Visible blood in the urine, which may be present one day and absent the next, is a common sign of kidney cancer, but it can also be a warning signal of a number of other disorders. Other common signs of kidney cancer are the presence of a lump or mass in the abdomen and pain in the side. The abdominal mass usually feels smooth, hard, and immobile. Fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, anemia, and high blood pressure may also accompany kidney cancer.

Metastatic liver cancer
Without treatment, more than half of all tumors eventually spread to the liver. These secondary tumors, called metastases, can enlarge and harden the liver, creating a distinct mass in the upper abdomen. Malignancies most likely to spread to the liver include cancers of the stomach, pancreas, lung, esophagus, colon, and breast, as well as melanoma. If the liver contains only one metastatic tumor, surgical removal may halt the spread, provided the primary cancer is treated as well. Less commonly, the primary cancer may arise in the liver itself, producing symptoms similar to those of metastatic cancer.

Ovarian cancer
Cancer of the ovaries most frequently occurs after menopause, but one type can afflict younger women. Its most common symptom is enlargement of the abdomen, which is generally due to an accumulation of fluid caused by the cancer. In a few cases, the enlargement may be due to the tumor itself. Abnormal vaginal bleeding is another sign associated with ovarian cancer. Less often, there may be abdominal pain and sensations similar to indigestion.

Stomach cancer
Early symptoms of stomach cancer are similar to those of other digestive illnesses and include persistent indigestion, bloating, slight nausea, loss of appetite, heartburn, and sometimes mild stomach pain. Later symptoms may include blood in the stool, vomiting, weight loss, and pain. Sometimes it is possible to feel a mass in the upper abdomen.

Wilms' tumor
This is the most common type of kidney cancer in children and is quite different from adult kidney cancer. The characteristic sign is an abdominal lump or swelling. Some children have blood in the urine, and other general symptoms include low-grade fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, and anemia. In most cases, Wilms' tumor is curable when treated with surgery, radiation, and anti­cancer drugs.

Advice about abdominal lumps

Seek your doctor's advice if you feel any abdominal mass or lump. The earlier the under­lying condition is detected and treated, the greater the chances of a full recovery.

This article was last reviewed November 9 , 2005 by Dr. James Krider.
Reproduced in part with permission of Home Health Handbook.
Cancer, kidney
Cancer, liver
Cancer, metastatic
Cancer, ovarian
Cancer, stomach
Crohn's disease
Hernia, abdominal
Hernia, umbilical
Wilms' tumor

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