Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Hand FAQ

Question:

I work as a nurse in a nursing home (extended care facility). When I developed a puffy, red, painful sore in my index finger I thought it was what we call a felon. It looks like an infected hangnail (usually a staph infection). But after soaking it off and on for weeks, it never went away. Turns out it was a malignant tumor of the hand. Please tell your readers not to ignore or self-treat hand infections. Find out what it is first!

Answer:

You are quite right! When people develop swollen, red, painful fingers, they don't usually head on in to the nearest cancer clinic. Instead, the tendency is to apply a home remedy and see if it clears up on its own. If the person shows up at their primary care physician's office or the local walk-in medical clinic, the same home therapy may be prescribed. Since local problems like you described in the hand aren't usually cancerous tumors, it's easy to miss the diagnosis. But a careful patient history (especially a personal history of cancer) and a physical exam should be performed. Blood may be drawn and sent to the lab. If there is reason to be suspicious, the attending medical personnel will order X-rays or even other more advanced imaging studies to help determine what's going on. Any time a group of symptoms like swelling, redness, pain, tenderness, and/or warmth appear at a local site (finger, hand) and don't go away with standard care, then it's definitely time for a more thorough exam. Treatment for malignant hand tumors consists of surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy (also known as "radiotherapy"). This is very different than soaking it. The surgeon must be careful to remove the entire tumor without cutting into it. This technique is referred to as getting "clear margins". Once the tumor is removed, it is sent to the lab where the pathologist identifies the exact type of tumor and "stages" it. Staging tells us how far advanced the disease is and helps determine the prognosis. Early diagnosis and treatment is always advised and often linked with better long-term outcomes. Thanks for the reminder! Mark E. Puhaindran, MBBS, and Edward A. Athanasian, MD. Malignant and Metastatic Tumors of the Hand. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. November 2010. Vol. 35A. No. 11. Pp. 1895-1900.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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