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
Abdominal masses are often
treatable. However, health complications may arise depending on the cause of
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:
disease — an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of your
digestive track lining
aortic aneurysm — an enlargement and/or protrusion of the large blood vessel
that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs
abscess — a pus-filled hollow in the pancreas
— inflammation or infection of the diverticula, common pouches that form in weak
places in the intestines and colon
— enlarged kidney due to the backup of urine
- enlarged liver
Signs and symptoms of an abdominal mass
Signs of an abdominal mass
- swelling in
the area affected
- pain (in
- abdominal fullness
- inability to
- inability to
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:
computed axial tomography (CAT) scan
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
removal of the mass
- methods to shrink
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
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
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.