Cysts are capsule or sac-like membranous structures containing gaseous, liquid, or semisolid material. They can be found anywhere on your skin or even on your internal organs. There are hundreds of types of cysts, depending on their location. The majority of the cysts are benign or non-cancerous. In many cases, they do not cause any noticeable symptoms unless they are associated with an infection or inflammation. Treatment of cysts varies based on their type, location, size, and severity.
Cysts can occur due to various reasons. Often, they occur due to blockage of a duct, clogged sebaceous glands, or an infection. Cysts can also occur due to genetic reasons. Other causes of cysts include tumors, inherited diseases, chronic inflammation, defects during embryo development, parasites, and vessel injury. Cysts are painless in many cases and do not develop any symptoms unless they get inflamed, infected, or rupture. The exact cause of a cyst depends on its type.
There are many different types of cysts, but some of the most common types are listed below:
· Sebaceous cyst: This cyst occurs due to the blockage of a sebaceous gland. They are usually small in size and filled with sebum which accounts for their yellowish color.
· Epidermoid cyst: These type of cysts can occur around a hair follicle. They appear as small bumps and are filled with the proteins keratin.
· Breast cyst: This cyst can also form due to blockage of glands. These type of cysts are non-cancerous but should be evaluated to differentiate them from breast cancer.
· Ovarian cyst: It occurs due to blockage of the ovarian follicle that releases egg. Fluid buildup occurs that results in the formation of a cyst.
· Ganglion cyst: Also known as synovial cysts. These cysts usually develop near the joints of wrist, hands, ankles and feet. They are non-cancerous and painless.
· Acne cysts: This occurs due to blockage of skin pores. It is a severe form of acne in which the cyst may become infected or inflamed.
· Baker’s cyst: This type of cyst appears as a bilge behind the knee. They usually develop due to a knee joint issue such as cartilage tear or arthritis.
· Pilar cyst: They are skin-colored lumps that can grow into a large size. This cyst is non-cancerous, but it may cause pain and discomfort.
· Dentigerous cyst: This cyst occurs around an unerupted tooth in your oral cavity. It may delay the normal eruption time of the affected tooth.
The risk factors for developing a cyst or multiple cysts depend on its type and underlying cause. Positive family history for certain types of cysts can be a risk factor. Any factor that obstructs the normal flow of fluids through various ducts or glands of your body can risk the formation of a cyst. Pre-existing skin infections can be another risk factor.
Cysts can occur at any age. Inherited forms of cysts may appear at a young age or develop at a later stage in life. Age may be an influencing factor. For example, ovarian cysts develop in females going through menses, while breast cysts usually develop after the 40s. Gender based predominance depends on the type of cysts.
Small cysts are asymptomatic in majority of the cases. It they are present on the skin, they will appear as a small bump or fluid-filled sac. The outer covering of a cyst is generally skin-colored or clear. The color of a cyst depends on its contents inside. Some types of small cysts can be painful as well. If cysts continue to grow in size, they can become a cause of discomfort and aesthetic concern. Cysts associated with internal organs, such as ovarian cysts, kidney cysts, thyroid cysts, etc., can be painful. Large cysts can also press upon other organs leading to multiple other symptoms.
Cysts are usually identified on the basis of their clinical appearance. Your doctor may ask for a medical and family history to understand the possible cause. If the cyst is present on skin or on an organ that can be palpated, a clinical examination is performed to determine the location, size and type of cyst. Imaging techniques such as x-rays, ultrasound, CT scans, and MRI can be useful to visualize cysts on internal organs. Needle biopsy may be performed to differentiate cyst from a cancerous mass. It can also be used to reduce the size of a cyst.
There are differentials present for almost every type of cyst. Skin-related cysts should be differentiated from other forms of bumps or sacs. It is important to remember that a cyst is different from an abscess because an abscess is filled with pus discharge.
Treatment depends on the size, location, and type of cyst. Small, non-cancerous cysts that do not cause any pain or discomfort may not require any treatment. Putting a warm compress on a skin cyst may help in drainage. If the patient demands treatment, simple techniques such as needle aspiration or corticosteroid injection can be used to reduce the size of the cyst. Other external cysts or cysts associated with internal organs need to be removed surgically. The best treatment option will be decided by your doctor based on the severity of your condition.
Medications can only help in symptomatic relief. If you have pain or inflammation associated with a cyst, your doctor may prescribe topical analgesics or corticosteroids to relieve pain and reduce signs of inflammation.
Majority of benign cysts do not cause any complications. They may go away on their own or remain for several years. If you have a cyst due to a tumor, the prognosis will depend on the type and severity of the tumor. In such cases, it will need to be surgically removed.
Most types of cysts cannot be prevented. They may occur without an apparent cause. Some forms of skin cysts may be prevented by cleansing your skin well to avoid clogging of pores and hair follicles. Ovarian cysts can be prevented to a certain degree by the use of hormonal contraceptives.
Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr.Saad Zia on May 16, 2023.
Cysts (Overview) - Harvard Health