Abdominal Masses

Authored by , Reviewed by Dr Colin Tidy | Last edited | Meets Patient’s editorial guidelines

An abdominal mass is a lump felt in your tummy (abdomen). There are many different causes of an abdominal mass. You must see a doctor as soon as you think you can feel a mass in your abdomen because you may need urgent investigations and treatment.

An abdominal mass is a lump in your tummy (abdomen). Your abdomen contains many different structures including your:

  • Stomach and gut (bowel).
  • Liver.
  • Spleen.
  • Pancreas.
  • Kidneys and bladder.
  • Womb (uterus) and ovaries in women.
  • Major blood vessels - for example, the aorta.

The exact position of the mass will help to determine what structure the mass is coming from. See the section 'What are the causes of an abdominal mass?' below.

The abdomen can be divided into nine areas:

  • Just below your ribs on the right side (right upper quadrant/hypogastrium).
  • Just below your ribs in the middle (epigastrium).
  • Just below your ribs on the left side (left upper quadrant/hypogastrium).
  • Right side of your middle abdomen (right loin/lumbar region).
  • Around your tummy button (periumbilical).
  • Left side of your middle abdomen (left loin/lumbar region).
  • Right side of your lower abdomen (right lower quadrant/inguinal or iliac region).
  • Middle of your lower abdomen (suprapubic and pelvis).
  • Left side of your lower abdomen (left lower quadrant/inguinal or iliac region).

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You might feel the lump in your tummy before any other symptom, but more usually it is first felt by a doctor examining your abdomen because of a different symptom, such as abdominal pain.

Therefore, you are more likely to be aware of a mass in your abdomen because of other symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation, rectal bleeding or weight loss. A mass in your kidney may also cause blood in your urine. Any other symptoms you get will depend on exactly where the mass is and the cause of the mass.

The possible cause of the lump (mass) in your tummy (abdomen) will depend on where it is in your abdomen. The following lists are examples of the more common causes of an abdominal mass in each area. A lump (swelling) that can be seen and felt over the front of the abdomen (abdominal wall) may be a skin lump or a hernia.

Right upper quadrant

Epigastrium

Left upper quadrant

Right loin

Periumbilical

Left loin

Right lower quadrant

Suprapubic and pelvis

Left lower quadrant

Initial tests will include blood tests. Further tests may include a urine test, an abdominal ultrasound scan, a CT scan or an MRI scan. Any further tests will depend on the likely underlying cause.

For women the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that if there is evidence of fluid (called ascites) or a mass in the pelvis or abdomen, you should be referred urgently under the two-week wait rules.

It is important to remember that in most cases, no cancer will be found. For instance, fibroids are a common cause of a pelvic mass. However, it is very important that tests be done to exclude cancer as soon as possible.

The treatment will depend on the cause of the abdominal mass. There are many serious causes of an abdominal mass so you must consult a doctor as soon as you think you can feel a mass in your tummy (abdomen).

Further reading and references

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