The word “tumor” can be very scary, but it is used to describe an abnormal mass (lump or bump). Most “tumors” actually are not cancerous, or benign. A tumor can develop from any tissue within the hand or wrist.
The most common tumor in the hand or wrist is a ganglion cyst. This is a benign fluid-filled outpouching of a joint or tendon sheath.
Giant cell tumor of the tendon sheath (shown in this patient’s thumb at left) is the next most common hand tumor, and also is benign. These are solid and are found near a tendon sheath. They usually grow slowly and can be felt beneath the skin.
Another benign tumor in the hand is an epidermal inclusion cyst. If you have cut or punctured your skin, sometimes skin cells get trapped under the surface of the skin but continue to try to make keratin, which is a waxy protective substance. Your body forms a cyst around this area as the skin cells continue to make keratin there.
Tumors of fat (lipomas), nerve (neuromas or schwannomas), fibrous tissue (fibromas), and glomus tumors all can be found in your hand.
Most tumors in the hand and wrist are benign, but hand cancer does exist. The most common cancer of the hand is skin cancer. “Sarcomas” of soft tissue or bone are very rare. Cancers from other areas of the body like the lung or breast can metastasize, or spread, to the hands.
If you discover a mass in your hand or wrist, your hand surgeon can help you determine what it is and how to treat it. If the diagnosis is unknown, you might be asked to undergo a “biopsy,” during which your surgeon takes a small sample of tissue to send to a pathologist; the pathologist looks at the tissue under a microscope to determine what the most likely diagnosis is.
Treatment of hand tumors ranges from observation to surgery with other possible therapies.