An abdominal mass is an abnormal growth in the abdomen. It may occur as the result of an underlying condition that can range from benign and asymptomatic to serious, including certain cancers. A patient with an abdominal mass is likely to feel bloated, pain, and discomfort, but it is also possible to experience no symptoms. Normally, you will be able to feel the mass by probing the lower stomach. Symptomatic or not, the mass may affect the surrounding organs and intestines.

Where might an abdominal mass be located?

Abdominal masses may develop anywhere in the abdomen. They may be within the flesh or fat of the stomach, on the abdominal muscles, or attached to an organ. The abdomen has four quadrants: the upper right, upper left, lower right, and lower left. The location of the mass helps doctors determine which organ or structure within the abdomen is affected. Organs that may be affected include the liver, kidneys, stomach, pancreas, uterus, ovaries, and appendix.


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What causes an abdominal mass?

The cause of an abdominal mass largely depends on its location. Cancer may be the cause of a mass located directly on an organ. Masses can also be benign or non-cancerous. A benign mass may be a fluid-filled cyst, a swollen gland, or a hernia. Swollen glands can often appear as masses in the prostate or spleen. Women may also experience uterine fibroids or ovarian cysts during pregnancy.


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What are the symptoms of an abdominal mass?

A common first symptom of an abdominal mass is stomach pain. Other symptoms may include diarrhea, constipation, rectal bleeding, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss. Kidney masses may also present with blood in the urine. One may be able to feel the mass in their abdomen, or it may be discovered upon examination by a doctor.


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How is an abdominal mass diagnosed?

When one complains of symptoms that seem to indicate an abdominal mass, a doctor will perform a physical examination of the abdomen. This includes feeling for a mass and checking for tender areas. The official diagnosis often requires an ultrasound, which also measures the size of the mass and determines the exact location and depth.


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What medical tests are required for an abdominal mass?

Once the presence of an abdominal mass is suspected, the doctor will require tests to confirm the diagnosis. This is also often done via ultrasound. Blood and urine testing will determine the effects the mass has had on the body. A CT scan or MRI may also be used to learn more about the mass.


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When is an abdominal mass considered a medical emergency?

If an abdominal mass is growing rapidly, it becomes a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. In these cases, doctors will opt for surgery to remove the mass. In some cases, the surgeon may be unable to completely remove the growth and may recommend further treatment to shrink it. If the mass is causing excruciating pain or is pulsating, this is also considered a medical emergency.


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Does an abdominal mass always require surgery?

Surgery isn't a requirement for all abdominal masses. In cases where cancer is the cause, doctors will typically try to shrink the mass using radiation or chemotherapy before turning to surgery. If a cancerous mass is growing rapidly, surgery may precede radiation or chemotherapy. Cysts, unless unusually large, tend to resolve on their own and do not require surgery or other intervention. Masses caused by a hernia, bowel obstruction, or aneurysm generally require surgery.


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Can an abdominal mass be fatal?

In some cases, abdominal masses are a life-threatening condition. When a mass is found to be pulsating in the same rhythm as the heartbeat, an abdominal aortic aneurysm is a likely cause. If not treated immediately, this aneurysm could rupture and cause internal bleeding. When cancer causes the abdominal mass, it has the potential to grow and spread throughout the body. In this case, the condition can be fatal. If caught early enough, doctors can often treat these masses, and successful recovery is possible.


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What complications can occur from an abdominal mass?

An abdominal mass is generally an easily treatable condition with little to no long-term complications. However, because abdominal masses can stem from more serious conditions, seeing a doctor can prevent further complications. Depending on the cause and location of the mass, the following complications are possible:

  • Sepsis
  • Incontinence
  • Gastrointestinal perforation (a tear in the abdomen)
  • Permanent damage to organs
  • Obstruction of the large or small intestine
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection
  • Rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm


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Can abdominal masses be hereditary?

Depending on the cause of your abdominal mass, there is a chance you've inherited the condition from your parents or grandparents. Women who experience uterine fibroids or abdominal cysts may discover their mother or grandmother has them, as well. Some cancers are known to be hereditary, and polycystic kidneys are often passed down from parent to child. Other causes of abdominal mass, such as hernia or gallbladder inflammation, are more likely to be caused by activity or diet.


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