An abdominal mass is an abnormal growth in the abdomen. It causes visible swelling and may change the shape of the abdomen. You may notice weight gain and symptoms like abdominal discomfort, pain, and bloating.
Masses in the abdomen are often described by their location.
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.
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’s filled with fluid or infected matter. It is sometimes to blame for an abdominal mass.
Cysts that commonly cause abdominal masses include ovarian cysts, which are cysts that form in or around the ovaries.
Cancers that often cause abdominal masses include:
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 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 — an enlarged kidney due to the backup of urine
- enlarged liver
- splenic enlargement
Signs of an abdominal mass include:
- swelling in the area affected
- pain in the abdomen
- abdominal fullness
- unintentional weight gain
- inability to urinate
- inability to pass stool
Abdominal masses may be hard, soft, stable, or moveable.
After going over your medical history, including your symptoms and when they began, your healthcare provider will have a good idea of where the mass is located. This will lead them 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 they gently press on various areas of your abdomen. This examination helps them locate the mass or any enlarged organs, and 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:
When imaging tests are not enough, your 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, your doctor will perform a colonoscopy. They’ll use a small microscope housed in a tube-like structure that is inserted into your colon.
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.
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
- radiation therapy
If you have cysts in your abdomen that are large 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, your 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, your 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.
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.