If you break down the word "incidentaloma," then you'll find that the sum of its parts is exactly what it is:
- incidental - by coincidence
- "oma" - is the Latin suffix for tumor, therefore...
An incidentaloma is a tumor that is found by coincidence. When trying to determine a diagnosis for symptoms a patient is experiencing, through imaging like a CT scan, an X-ray, an MRI, or a PET scan, the radiologist may find a tumor that was unexpected -- an incidentaloma. Incidentalomas are not unusual, and are usually benign.
Another name sometimes used in a similar circumstance is "pathologist's tumor," meaning, a tumor that is found either when a patient is being evaluated for some other reason, or during an autopsy. Unlike incidentalomas, which are usually benign, "pathologist's tumor" is more frequently used when the tumor is malignant.
There are a handful of incidentalomas that are found more frequently than others. Adrenal, renal, pituitary and parathyroid incidentalomas are all endocrine in nature. Because many don't carry symptoms that indicate a tumor is present, their symptoms may instead be more difficult to define, and the patient may be undiagnosed.
Incidentalomas may also be found in the lungs, called pulmonary nodules, or in the liver, called hemangiomas.
Finding a tumor in this manner may be the answer for patients who, to that point, have not been accurately diagnosed. In a case where symptoms and a diagnosis have been elusive, finding an incidentaloma may finally suggest a diagnosis for an undiagnosed patient.
However, finding an incidentaloma won't always be beneficial to a patient. The fact that a tumor is found, even if it is benign, often leads to extra testing -- and, some believe, excess testing. Overtesting may lead to bigger problems, including treatments that may not be needed, and put patients at risk.