What is a hand tumor?
A hand tumor is an abnormal bump on the hand. This may at first seem cancerous and frightening, but these tumors are almost never dangerous. Tumors can appear on or under the skin, or within the bone itself. A tumor on the skin may appear as a mole or a wart. If the tumor develops under the skin or on the bone, it may not be visible. However, it will likely still be painful.
Because there are so many types of tissue within the hand, there are a fair number of types of hand tumors. Only a few of them are common.
What are the most common types of hand tumors?
The most common type of hand tumor is called a ganglion cyst. This is a harmless bump on your hand or wrist which grows out of the tissues surrounding a joint. This cyst is typically filled with fluid. It is usually round or oval-shaped, and varies in firmness. The cyst may or may not be painful, and may fluctuate in size. They generally appear at the palm side of the wrist, the base of the finger on the palm side, or at the top of the end joint of the finger.
Ganglion cysts are a benign tumor, and will not spread to other areas of the hand or body. It is unclear why they appear, but they are commonly linked to mild arthritis. They can occur in patients of all ages, but are most common after the age of 45 , and more common in women than in men.
A ganglion cyst is diagnosed by examining the bump on the hand. If it is at the base of the finger, it is probably sensitive to pressure. Cysts on the joint at the end of the finger may be associated with an arthritic bone spur. The cyst may be translucent, which aids the physician in diagnosing the problem. The physician will ask questions about how long the cyst has been there, whether it changes in size, and whether it is painful, among other questions. You may also have to go in for an x-ray to make sure that there aren’t other problems, such as arthritis or bone tumors.
A ganglion cyst is generally treated non-surgically. If it is not causing problems, the first option is just to observe the cyst, as it may disappear with time. If the cyst is painful or inflamed, other options are available. Splints may help take pressure off of the cyst, which should decrease the pain associated with it.
If the cyst causes a great deal of pain, a procedure called aspiration is an option. This uses a needle to drain the fluid from the cyst, and should stop the pain. However, it may not heal the cyst permanently, because it hasn’t gotten rid of the connection to the joint or tendon sheath.
If none of the non-surgical options work, you should consider surgical treatment. The surgery generally removes the cyst, along with part of the joint or tendon sheath, which is considered the root of the problem. This is generally an outpatient procedure, as the patient is usually allowed to leave after a short observation period.
Giant Cell Tumors of the Tendon Sheath
Giant cell tumors are the second most common hand tumor. These tumors are also benign, and grow slowly over time out of the tendon sheath. They are not filled with fluid, and may be painful. Giant cell tumors of the tendon sheath most commonly affect patients between the ages of 30-50.
These tumors can generally be removed with a simple surgery.
The carpal boss is another common hand tumor. It is often mistaken for a ganglion cyst. The boss is due to a mild form of osteoarthritis, and is most common in patients from 20-40 years of age.
This tumor is characterized by a hard lump on the back of the hand which is usually not painful. Carpal bossing occurs when the cartilage lining of the joint thins, and bone spurs form naturally as a response. This is what causes most of the lump.
A physician should ask about the symptoms of the tumor, when the symptoms began and how they progressed, if you have had any prior treatment, and other questions. He will then examine the area, checking for pain and other signs. After the carpal boss has been diagnosed, you should be sent for an x-ray to see the area of osteoarthritis and where the bone has grown.
The treatment for carpal bossing is very similar to that of its cause, osteoarthritis. Anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen can help with the pain, as well as a brace or splint. If these don’t work, steroid injections with a bit of anesthesia have a good chance of controlling the pain and making it more manageable. However, the steroid injections may not work, or may wear off quickly. If they don’t work after a short period, surgery is most likely the best option.
Are any hand tumors dangerous?
Almost every hand tumor is benign. Ganglion cysts are by far the most common form of hand tumor, and while sometimes painful or irritating, they are not dangerous. Most other types of hand tumor are also benign. In fact, there is only a 1-2% chance that a tumor in the hand could be dangerous. For the most part, there is usually nothing to worry about. Many tumors will disappear with time, and should not cause too many problems in day-to-day life.
However, it is always good to err on the side of caution when you notice an abnormality in your hand or wrist. For that reason, it’s generally a good idea to go to a physician to make sure that what you’re dealing with is benign.