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What causes abdominal mass? 20 possible conditions

An abdominal mass is an abnormal growth in the abdomen. An abdominal mass causes visible swelling and may change the shape of the abdomen. A person with an abdominal mass may notice weight gain and symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, pain, and bloating.

Masses in the abdomen are often described by their location. The abdomen is divided into four sections called quadrants. An abdominal mass may occur in the right upper quadrant, left upper quadrant, right lower quadrant, or left lower quadrant. The stomach is also divided into two sections: the epigastric section and the periumbilical section. The periumbilical section is located below and around the belly button; the epigastric section is located above the belly button and below the ribs.

Abdominal masses are often treatable. However, health complications may arise depending on the cause of the mass.

What Causes an Abdominal Mass?

Abdominal masses can be the result of a number of factors, including an injury, cyst, benign tumor, cancer, or other disease.


A cyst is an abnormal mass in the body that is filled with fluid or infected matter. It is sometimes to blame for an abdominal mass.

Cysts that commonly cause abdominal masses include:

  • ovarian cysts — cysts that form in or around the ovaries
  • cholecystitis — often caused by gallstones (abnormal mass of hardened digestive fluid) that block the tube leading out of the gallbladder, causing gallbladder inflammation.


Cancers that often cause abdominal masses include:

  • colon cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • liver cancer
  • stomach cancer


Certain diseases may also cause abdominal masses. These diseases include:

  • Crohn’s disease — an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of your digestive track lining
  • abdominal aortic aneurysm — an enlargement and/or protrusion of the large blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs
  • pancreatic abscess — a pus-filled hollow in the pancreas
  • diverticulitis — inflammation or infection of the diverticula, common pouches that form in weak places in the intestines and colon
  • hydronephrosis — enlarged kidney due to the backup of urine
  • enlarged liver
  • splenic enlargement

Signs and Symptoms of an Abdominal Mass

Signs of an abdominal mass include:

  • swelling in the area affected
  • pain (in abdomen)
  • abdominal fullness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • unintentional weight gain
  • inability to urinate
  • inability to pass stool
  • fever

Abdominal masses may be hard, soft, stable, or moveable.

How Are Abdominal Masses Diagnosed?

After going over your medical history, including your symptoms and when they began, the doctor will have a good idea of where the mass is located. This will lead him or her to determine which organs or surrounding structures are affected by the abdominal mass. During a physical examination, your doctor will ask that you lie back while he or she gently presses on various areas of your abdomen. This examination helps the doctor to locate the mass or any enlarged organs, and to see if and where you are experiencing tenderness.

An imaging test is usually ordered to determine the size and location of the mass. An imaging test can also determine what type of mass is in the abdomen. Imaging tests that are commonly ordered for this purpose are:

  • abdominal computed axial tomography (CAT) scan
  • abdominal X-ray
  • abdominal ultrasound

When imaging tests are not enough, the doctor may wish to take a closer look at the area involved. This is especially true if the digestive system is involved. To look in the digestive system, the doctor uses a small microscope housed in a tube-like structure. This tube is inserted into your colon (an organ of your digestive system). This procedure is called a colonoscopy.

A blood test (complete blood count) may also be ordered to check your hormone levels and for the presence of infection. Women who have ovarian cysts will require a special imaging scan called a transvaginal ultrasound. Unlike an abdominal ultrasound, which views organs on the inside by sliding a probe over the abdomen, a transvaginal ultrasound is performed by inserting a probe into the vagina. This allows the doctor to have a closer look at the uterus and ovaries.

How Are Abdominal Masses Treated?

Depending on the cause of the mass, treatment may consist of medication, surgery, or specialized care.

The most common treatment options to eliminate abdominal masses include:

  • medications to correct hormones
  • surgical removal of the mass
  • methods to shrink the mass
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy

If you have cysts in the abdomen that are large and/or causing considerable pain, your doctor may opt to remove them through surgery. Surgical removal is also used to remove tumors. However, if removal is dangerous, the surgeon may suggest methods to shrink the mass instead.

Chemotherapy or radiation treatment may also be suggested to shrink the mass. Once the mass reaches a smaller size, the doctor may opt to end the chemotherapy and remove the mass through surgery. This option is often used for people who have cancerous abdominal masses.

Masses that are caused by changes in hormones, such as ovarian cysts, may be treated through hormone replacement medication or low dose hormone birth control pills.

Future Health Complications

Abdominal masses that choke off organs may damage the organ. If any part of the organ is damaged, it may need to be removed surgically. If there are multiple masses in the abdomen, you may need several forms of treatment or surgical procedures to eliminate the masses. Cancerous masses may come back after treatment.

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome may develop multiple cysts in their ovaries on a monthly basis. These cysts may go away without treatment but some may grow large enough to warrant surgical removal.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Ovarian Cysts

Most women will develop at least one cyst on their ovaries during their lives. In most cases, these cysts are painless and cause no symptoms.

Read more »


Gall Bladder Inflammation

Gallbladder disease is a term for various conditions that affect the organ. The majority of these diseases are caused by irritation to the gallbladder wall.

Read more »


Crohn’s Disease

Crohn's disease is a chronic bowel disease that causes severe inflammation of the digestive tract. It is associated with abdominal pain, diarrhea, and may affect your quality of life. Crohn's disease is characterized b...

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Fibroids are abnormal growths that develop in or on a woman's uterus. Heavy bleeding, pain in the pelvis or lower back, cramping, and bloating could indicate fibroids.

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Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

The aorta carries blood from your heart down to your abdomen, legs, and pelvis. Swollen aortic walls in the abdomen is known as an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

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Intestinal Obstruction

If your small or large intestine becomes blocked, fluid and digested food cannot move through. This can cause bloating, stomach cramps, and burping.

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Colorectal (Colon) Cancer

Colorectal cancer is a cancer that originates in the rectum or colon. Both of these organs are located at the lower portion of your digestive system. The colon is at the end of the large intestine and the rectum is a...

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Liver Cancer

Liver cancer causes destruction of liver cells and interferes with the ability of the liver to function normally. Cancer that originates in the liver can spread from the liver to other parts of the body.

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Diverticula are bulging sacs that can appear in the lining of your large intestine. Diverticulitis occurs when these sacs get acutely infected or inflamed.

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Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer that develops in tissues of the sympathetic nervous system (the system that carries brain signals to the body). Early symptoms of the cancer can include fever, diarrhea, and others.

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A hernia occurs when an organ pushes through the muscle or tissue that holds it in place. Hernias are most common in the abdomen but can appear elsewhere.

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Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are solid masses of crystalized calcium or other substances that originate in the kidneys but can pass through the urinary tract. The greatest risk factor is making less than one liter of urine per day.

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Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is cancer of the pancreas, an organ that secretes an enzyme that breaks down fats, carbs, and proteins. Pancreatic cancer can obstruct the outflow of bile from the liver and causes yellow skin.

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Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a lymphatic system cancer. Symptoms may include swollen lymph nodes, chest pain, fatigue, and fever.

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Renal Cell Cancer

Renal cell carcinoma is the most common kind of kidney cancer found in adults. Often aggressive, it occurs when cancer cells grow uncontrollably in the lining of the tubules of the kidney, causing many possible symptoms.

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Hydronephrosis is a condition that typically occurs when one kidney becomes swollen due to the failure of normal drainage of urine from the kidney to the bladder. This swelling most commonly affects only one kidney, bu...

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Burkitt's Lymphoma

Burkitt's lymphoma is a relatively rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer of the lymphatic system. It's most common in children living in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Pancreatic Pseudocyst

A pancreatic pseudocyst is a collection of tissue and fluids that forms on your pancreas. It's usually not dangerous unless it ruptures.

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Stomach Cancer (Gastric Adenocarcinoma)

Stomach cancer occurs when cancerous cells form in the stomach lining. Because it's difficult to detect, it's often not diagnosed until it's more advanced.

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Abdominal Lump

An abdominal lump is a swelling or bulge that emerges from any area of the abdomen. It most often feels soft, but may be firm, depending on its underlying cause. In most cases, a lump is caused by a hernia-a protrusio...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.