Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.
What is a Glomus tumor?
It is a rare type of tumor that originates from the glomus cells. It usually affects the palm, nail bed, and terminal parts of the body that contains glomus bodies in the dermis layer of the skin. The glomus body regulates the temperature in the body.
A glomus tumor is most likely to occur if there is an abnormal growth of the glomus body. The tumor is usually small and painful. If not treated right away could lead to extreme pain. It could also lead to cold intolerance. The other term for glomus tumor is paragangliomas. (1, 2, 3)
Image 1: The typical clinical manifestation of glomus tumor.
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Picture 2: The surgical procedure of removing glomus tumor.
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Photo 3: A close up look at a glomus tumor.
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A glomus tumor is commonly found in people between 20 to 50 years old. The prevalence rate is higher in women than men.
Being a rare case, the ratio is one per 1.5 million people. Most glomus tumor affects the nail bed. About 5% of soft tissue tumors in the hand is caused by glomus tumor. (3, 4)
- A solitary tumor that looks like a small lesion, usually less than 7mm in diameter.
- The tumors are found on the fingers, wrist, fingernails, and distant parts of the body.
- The tumor can also affect other parts of the body, although rare such as the glans penis and gastric antrum.
- The tumor is extremely painful and tender to touch.
- The pain becomes severe when in contact with cold water.
- The intensity of pain increases by night. (4, 5, 6)
Glomus Tumor Causes
It is not yet clear as to what really causes glomus tumor. Many health experts strongly believed that glomus tumor is a result of trauma and/or defects in the glomus body, especially in the case of multiple glomus tumor. (5, 6)
How is glomus tumor diagnosed?
Diagnosing a glomus tumor can be quite difficult, especially in the early stage. The lesion is too small that is barely recognizable. In fact, the person who has it wouldn’t mind it and will not be aware that the tumor exist until pain starts to set in. The pain is moderate that gets severe as time passes by.
There are also pain triggering factors like cold water and point tenderness. To come up with an accurate diagnosis, a biopsy should be made. In the histopathology report, there will be a few blood cells with dark staining nuclei of the tumor cells.
Other tests used to accurately diagnose a glomus tumor are USG, MRI, and CT scan. CT scan may show a non-specific subungual mass. However, MRI is rarely used, although it can help detect existing lesions in the soft tissues. (6, 7, 8, 9)
Glomus tumor Treatment
The best way to cure glomus tumor is to have it surgically removed. The procedure is not that difficult. As a matter of fact, the procedure can be done in the clinic or in the outpatient department. It would take around 15 minutes to 30 minutes for the tumor to be removed.
If the tumor is in the nail bed, the nail should be removed and an incision is made to thoroughly visualize the tumor and have it removed. Once the tumor is removed, the incision site is stitched and bandaged. It would take about three months for the nails to grow back to its normal state.
The doctor will prescribe drugs to combat pain and prevent possible infections. Eventually, the pain will subside and everything goes back to usual. (5, 8, 9, 10)
What is the prognosis?
The prognosis is good, especially if the tumor is surgically removed. A cure will not be possible if the tumor is not removed. Malignancy is rare and there is a slim possibility of recurrence.
A glomus tumor may sound scary because of the intense pain, especially when touched or when exposed to cold water. However, one must understand that a glomus tumor is a benign case and extremely rare that would progress to malignancy.
Although the primary cause of glomus tumor is still unknown up to this time. Many researchers believed that external injury can trigger the formation of glomus tumor. Diagnosing glomus tumor is not that easy because of the tumor’s size and hardly noticeable appearance.
The best way to manage and treat glomus tumor is to have it removed surgically. It is a minor surgery and can be done in just a few minutes. Once the tumor is removed, the patient can go back to his/her daily usual routine.
The recurrence rate is low and complication is less likely to happen. (1, 5, 9, 10)