Cysts are fairly common, but it’s possible you haven’t experienced one before. If you want to know the ins and outs of basic cysts, from their causes to treatment to common cyst symptoms, you came to the right place.
A cyst is a closed sac of material that develops beneath the skin. A cyst can be made of a number of things, including fluid like blood and pus or harder masses like scar or calcified (hardened) tissue.
Where a cyst forms and what it contains is often related to its cause, but some kinds of cysts can appear all over the body, while others are limited to small areas of occurence. Often, a cyst is the result of injury or trauma but they can also be the result of different hereditary conditions. Sometimes, a cyst forms when one of the many ducts or structural parts of the skin are blocked or disrupted.
Common cysts are benign, meaning that they are not cancerous. Ovarian and breast cysts are often benign, but that’s not always the case. Malignant cysts are cysts that prove to be cancerous, and a person prone to certain kinds of cysts are at higher risk to develop cancerous cysts.
Next, let’s look at some of the most common kinds of cysts, including causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Probably the most common kind of cysts, epidermoid cysts are bumps on the skin (typically small) that are full of the protein keratin. They are usually formed when the hair follicle is damaged in some way, even if it’s just a scratch. The bumps are moveable, semi-soft tissue that doesn’t usually cause discomfort of any kind.
Epidermoid cysts can occur almost anywhere on the body, as keratin is produced throughout the skin. Sometimes an epidermoid cyst may resolve on its own, and usually they won’t be removed unless you want it removed for cosmetic reasons. On rare occasions, an epidermoid cyst might become inflamed and cause pain and irritation.
Epidermoid cysts are unavoidable, so there are no steps to take to avoid them. The good news is, epidermoid cysts rarely cause even the slightest irritation and can be removed with little effort by your dermatologist.
Usually, epidermoid cysts can be drained with a needle and monitored. If infection is likely, you may be given antibiotics. Sometimes cysts refill with fluid. When this happens, a minimally invasive surgery is a common cyst treatment to remove the entire cyst so it cannot recur.
Sometimes the terms sebaceous cysts and epidermoid cysts are used interchangeably because they are essentially the same in appearance and are treated the same way.
However, a sebaceous cyst is a slightly less common occurrence than an epidermoid cyst. They occur in a different part of the skin, even if it is in close proximity to a follicle.
Sebaceous cysts get their name because they occur within the sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands are actually attached to hair follicles, but are their own system. They produce sebum, or oil which protects skin from water and infection.
A sebaceous cyst occurs when the gland is blocked and sebum is clogged beneath the skin. This is very similar to how acne forms, but a sebaceous cyst can grow larger and last longer than a pimple. It also is far less widespread than acne breakouts.
Much like epidermoid cysts, sebaceous cysts can resolve on their own and are treated similarly. Your dermatologist will usually drain the cyst of its fluid and then remove the structure of the cyst if it continues to fill.
Women are often more inclined to develop cysts, like in the breasts and ovaries. Another place women develop cysts more often than men are in the wrists and ankles. These cysts are called ganglion cysts.
Ganglion cysts are benign, but they occasionally grow and can cause issues for the hand or foot they affect. Ganglion cysts may resolve on their own, but if the cyst is larger and causes numbness or a loss of mobility they should be removed quickly. This is because they can grow close to a nerve, which means ganglion cysts can cause pain or a tingling sensation in your wrist, ankle, hands or feet.
To remove a ganglion cyst, your dermatologist will aspirate it with a needle (drain it) and remove the structure if necessary. Ganglion cysts often come back, and you may need to take further steps to keep them at bay. You may need to use a brace to take pressure off your wrist or ankle, and your doctor might suggest wearing more comfortable footwear to prevent irritation of the ankle or foot. As with any common cyst, your outlook is excellent—treatment is usually quick and that’s the end of it.
If you suspect you’re developing a cyst in your skin, reach out to the experts at North Pacific Dermatology today.