What Are Tumors?

Tumors are masses or lumps of tissue that form when cells divide out of control.

Some tumors are cancer, and some are not. Tumors that are cancer are called malignant. Tumors that are not cancer are called benign.

The danger of cancerous tumors is that they may invade or press on nearby structures as their cells keep dividing. Cancer cells may also spread (metastasize) from the tumor to other parts of the body, where new tumors (metastases) may grow.

Benign tumors may cause health problems, too, even though they are not cancer. Cells from benign tumors do not invade nearby structures or spread throughout the body. But benign tumors may press on nearby structures. This can be a concern anywhere in the body but especially if the tumor is in a limited space, like inside the chest or skull.

Tumors in Children

Childhood tumors are not common. They can range from small, simple masses that do not cause health problems to widespread, complex tumors. Tumors may need surgery, sometimes along with other treatments, like chemotherapy for cancer.

Childhood tumors treated by our General Surgery department include these and others:

Also, our Neurosurgery department treats brain and spinal tumors, and our Orthopedics department treats spinal tumors and bone and soft tissue tumors.

Tumors at Seattle Children's

Our surgeons are experienced at doing the surgeries children may need to diagnose or treat tumors, including the most complex tumors.

Expert care

Because of our expertise, other medical centers often refer children with tumors to Seattle Children's.

  • Our general and thoracic surgeons work closely with our childhood cancer doctors (oncologists), blood disorder doctors (hematologists), skeleton and muscle doctors (orthopedists), neurosurgeons and others to decide whether a child needs surgery for a tumor and to plan the details of any surgery. They gather at weekly meetings called Tumor Boards to discuss complex care issues and coordinate all aspects of a child's care.
  • Many of our surgeons have advanced training in removing challenging tumors. These include tumors that are large, have invaded nearby structures or require reconstruction of affected areas.
  • Unlike some other centers, we have technology to find the exact location of tumors that are hard to see on usual scans (computed tomography (CT)-guided and ultrasound-guided identification).
  • When it might benefit a child, we use minimally invasive techniques. This means removing part or all of a tumor for testing (biopsy) or treatment (resection) through small incisions (cuts). These techniques may include robot-assisted laparoscopic surgery.
  • We have a procedure called sentinel lymph node mapping, rarely offered at pediatric centers. This allows us to find the lymph nodes that drain a cancerous area and to tell whether cancer cells have spread there. This affects treatment decisions.
  • Seattle Children's is part of the Children's Oncology Group (COG). Many of our physicians worked to develop COG's treatment guidelines. We follow these guidelines to help ensure our patients with cancer get the treatment that meets the highest standards.

Team approach

When you come to Seattle Children's, you have a team of people to care for your child. Along with your child's physicians, you are connected with nurses, dietitians, child life specialists, social workers and others. We work together to meet all of your child's health needs and help your family through this experience.

Focus on children

Since 1907, Seattle Children's has been treating children only. Our team members are trained in their fields and also in meeting the unique needs of children. For example, the doctors who give your child anesthesia are board-certified in pediatric anesthesiology. This means they have extra years of training in how to take care of kids. Our child life specialists know how to help children understand their illnesses and treatments in ways that make sense for their age. Our expertise in pediatrics truly makes a difference to our patients and families.