Tumors the size and weight of another human — how on Earth does this happen? This medical anomaly makes for interesting television specials and news blurbs, but what about the lives and circumstances of the people involved? Let's a take a look at the type of tumors grow to this size, the rather simple reasons for their growth, and the kinds of recent surgeries that remove them.
Top image: 198 pound tumor growing within Vietnam native Nguyen Duy Hai (FV hospital).
Most large tumors are not malignant, but solid masses that grow slowly over time and are not associated with spreading cancer. The tumors often consist of fibrous tissue, with the tissue growing as it feeds off of blood and nutrients coursing through the body of the host.
Over time, these continually growing benign tumors can cause pain as the additional mass blocks a blood vessel or places added pressure on a nerve. Lung and heart problems along with the shifting of internal organs occur with some of these massive tumors, yielding further medical issues.
A variety of reasons play a role in allowing a tumor to reach an enormous size. Such tumors often grow in the abdominal area — if the tumor grew in a more visible place, like a face or arm, the patient is much more likely to notice its abnormal nature and seek help before the tumor balloons.
In many of cases of abdominal tumors, the patient assumes he or she is simply gaining weight. One early report of large benign tumor notes a 58 year-old woman who first noticed the a solid mass at age 38, but dismissed it as weight gain. The solid fibroid tumor grew over the next two decades, as the patient slowly increased in weight to 230 pounds, with the tumor weighing 100 pounds alone.
Patients sometimes allow their tumors to grow to enormous proportions because they have a dire fear of death during the surgery - this psychological issue gets compounded by the depression that often accompanies lack of mobility. Prior to the removal of the largest tumor on record, a 303 pound tumor removed in 1993, the patient spent the previous six years confined to her house with family providing around the clock care. During this time, she ballooned to over five-hundred pounds, with the patient exhibiting a fear of re-entering society. A psychiatrist diagnosed her with atypical depression, panic attacks, and family dependence issues five years before surgery.
A lack of advanced medical care in many countries also plays a role. The excision of a massive tumor is neither cheap or easy, and the procedure also requires expert medical professionals due to the completely unknown circumstances of what might be found once surgery begins. Cost is also an issue — an estimate for moving a Romanian tumor patient to the United States for surgery soared into the $300,000 range, leading an industrious surgeon to travel to Romania to remove the tumor.
McCay McKinnon, an American plastic surgeon from the University of Chicago, removed a 198-pound tumor from a Vietnamese man during a 10-hour procedure in early 2012. Surgery is an extremely time and resource intensive process due to the large open wound created and then closed during removal, along with necessary blood and plasma transfusions. McKinnon previously removed a 176-pound tumor from a Michigan woman in 1999 and an 80-pound tumor from the back of a Romanian woman in 2004. McKinnon waives any fees and the surgical costs for the operations are typically covered by donations.
Growing an extremely large tumor is not something that happens overnight — it is a combination of chance, negligence, or inadequate access to medical care. Get any lump you discover checked out — you don't want to carry a 100-pound tumor around through your forties and fifties. Should you find yourself gaining weight you cannot lose, it could be a benign tumor that could be cut out, which is the world's worst silver lining if you hate hitting the gym.
Images courtesy of FV hospital, Tuoitrenews, and the Journal of Gyneologic Oncology. Sources linked within the article.