Abdominal mass

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 15, 2015
StartSymptomsAbdominal mass

An abdominal mass is an enlarging of a portion of the abdomen caused by an unusual collection of tissue. It may also be the result of swelling. There are many possible causes for the formation of a mass, and it will need to be diagnosed quickly.


Definition & Facts

An abdominal mass has many possible causes. It is usually noticed when a lump appears on the belly area and grows in size. It may grow slowly or rapidly, depending on the cause. Masses in the abdomen are often first spotted during doctor's visits. Most of them grow slowly and may not even be noticed. Other clues may also be occurring at the same time, including:


Masses in the abdomen will vary. They may be hard or soft, able to move around, or in a fixed position. A mass in the abdomen has many possible causes. Most likely, testing will be needed to determine the exact nature of the problem.

They include:

When an abdominal mass is discovered, it is important to see a doctor right away. A careful diagnosis needs to be given because, with some of these causes, a misdiagnosis can be fatal in several of them. If there is cancer of the abdomen, for instance, it could cause sexual problems, such as impotence, vaginal bleeding in between periods, and more. It can also spread to other body parts.

An abdominal mass may be associated with a wide variety of symptoms. This is because there are many possible causes. Some other symptoms may include:

When to see a doctor

As soon as the abdominal mass is noticed, a doctor should be seen right away. Because there are so many possible causes, it is very important to get a diagnosis as fast as possible. In some cases, the individual may notice that the lump is pulsating, and it is accompanied with considerable pain.

This might be a ruptured aortic aneurysm, which is life threatening and needs to be treated immediately. Other health problems can cause a lump of different forms to develop, such as: liver cancer will cause a firm but lumpy mass; an ovarian cyst can cause a smooth and rounded, but rubbery mass above the pelvis, etc. If it is life threatening, the patient will be stabilized first, and then tests may be given to determine the problem. The location of the mass can also help the doctor to identify the problem.

For analysis, the doctor will mentally divide the abdomen into four quarters. To identify a location, the doctor will ask the patient to lie down, and then will feel the abdomen for problems, revealing the size of the mass, as well as whether or not any of the organs are enlarged. A gallbladder problem may cause a mass in the upper right quadrant, and so will liver cancer; but an abdominal aortic aneurysm will cause a pulsating mass around the navel area, etc. The doctor may run a number of tests to determine the cause. This may include a pelvic or rectal exam. Some other tests that may be given include:

Treatment & Therapy

Once the nature of the abdominal mass is known, then treatment can be started. A number of masses do not require any type of treatment. If the mass is a tumor, or cancerous, or causes pain, the doctor may use surgery to remove it. The doctor may also seek to remove it if it is growing fast. Sometimes, doctors will choose to try and reduce the size of the tumors first, especially if there may be some danger involved.

Shrinking a tumor may involve medications (hormone therapy), such as in the case of ovarian cysts. The mass may also be shrunk by means of chemotherapy or radiation. Once the size has been reduced, the doctor is apt to use surgery to remove it completely. In some situations, the size of the mass can damage an organ, and the damaged part may need to be removed via surgery. If there is more than one mass, it is possible that the doctor may recommend multiple methods to remove them.

Hernias are common in the area of the abdomen, but may also occur elsewhere. Surgery is needed to repair the damage. Some causes of a mass in the abdomen will only require a watching status until further problems, if any, will develop. If it is not causing any harm yet, there is no need for any immediate medical intervention. In some cases, an abdominal mass may form, but it may not be a common symptom of the problem. An example of this is appendicitis, where further testing may be required. If cancer is involved, the treatment will also be based on the stage of the cancer. In the worst case situation, it cannot be treated.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

One issue that can cause swelling of the abdomen is stomach cancer. While this is only one of many, the risk of getting it is higher for the person who:

  • Smokes
  • Eats many smoked, pickled, or salty foods
  • Is overweight
  • Has type-A blood
  • Had stomach surgery for an stomach ulcer

Some women have polycystic ovary syndrome, and this means that several cysts will develop on their ovaries every month. In some cases, they will disappear, but it is also possible that they could grow large enough to be removed surgically. In specific cases, doctors will provide information to the patients about what kind of preventive steps are needed in order to reduce the possibility of a recurrence.

Women who have a high risk of developing ovarian cancer may want to have their ovaries removed after child-bearing years. This will reduce their risk of developing both breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

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