A cyst is a sac-like pocket of membranous tissue that contains fluid, air, or other substances. Cysts can grow almost anywhere in your body or under your skin.
A cyst can appear as a bump on your skin. It may also feel like a small lump if it’s growing just under your skin.
Some cysts grow deep inside your body where you can’t feel them. However, they may cause or be related to other symptoms. For example, ovarian cysts, such as those that result from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), may cause problems with ovarian and reproductive function. Polycystic kidney disease (PKD), which causes cysts to form in the kidney, can adversely affect kidney function.
Cysts usually grow slowly and have a smooth surface. They can be tiny or very large. Most cysts aren’t painful. They usually don’t cause problems unless they’re:
- very large
- impinging on a nerve or blood vessel
- growing in a sensitive area
- affecting the function of an organ
Why do cysts form?
Cysts form for different reasons. They can be caused by:
- inherited diseases
- chronic inflammation
- blockages in ducts
- The exact cause depends on the type of cyst.
Types of cysts
There are hundreds of different types of cysts. They can grow almost anywhere in your body. Some cysts occur as part of another condition, such as PCOS or PKD. Some of the more common types of cysts include the following
These are small, benign bumps filled with keratin protein. If you have trauma around a hair follicle within the skin, an epidermoid cyst may occur. If part of the top layer of your skin, called the epidermis, grows deeper instead of moving outward toward the surface to eventually be shed off, an epidermoid cyst will have a chance to form.
In rare cases, epidermoid cysts can be caused by an inherited condition called Gardner’s syndrome.
Sebaceous cysts often form within sebaceous glands. These glands are part of the skin and hair follicles. Ruptured or blocked sebaceous glands can lead to sebaceous cysts. Sebaceous glands make oil for your skin and hair. Sebaceous cysts fill with sebum and are less common than epidermoid cysts.
These benign cysts usually form near the joint areas of your wrist or hand. However, they can also develop in your feet or ankle areas. The reason they form isn’t known.
Ganglion cysts tend to occur along a tendon sheath near a joint. They’re more common in women than in men.
Ovarian cysts often form when the follicle that normally releases an egg doesn’t open. This causes fluid to build up and form a cyst.
Another common type of ovarian cyst occurs after the follicle releases the egg and improperly recloses and collects fluid. Ovarian cysts occur most often in women of menstrual age. They’re usually found during pelvic exams.
Ovarian cysts are associated with an increased risk of cancer when they occur after menopause.
Benign cysts can develop in your breasts when fluid collects near your breast glands. They commonly occur in women in their 30s and 40s. They can cause pain or tenderness in the affected area.
Chalazia are benign cysts that occur on your eyelids when the oil gland duct is blocked. These cysts can cause tenderness, blurred vision, and painful swelling. If they get too big, they can cause vision problems.
These cysts form near the top, middle part of the buttocks. They’re usually filled with skin debris, body oils, hair, and other matter.
Pilonidal cysts occur more often in men than in women. They can develop when loose hairs become embedded in your skin. According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic infections in these cysts might increase your risk of a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Know the signs for different types of skin cancer to treat it early.
When to see your doctor
Schedule an appointment with your doctor if your cyst becomes very painful or red. This could be a sign of a rupture or an infection.
A doctor should check your cyst even if it isn’t causing any pain or other problems. Abnormal growths can be a sign of cancer. Your doctor may want to remove a tissue sample for testing.
In some cases, cysts go away on their own. Putting a warm compress on a cyst can speed up the healing process by helping it drain.
You should never try to squeeze or pop a cyst on your own. This can lead to infection.
Common methods of medical treatment for cysts include the following:
Your doctor can drain fluids and other matter from the cyst using a needle.
Your doctor can give you medications, such as a corticosteroid injection, to reduce inflammation in the cyst.
Your doctor can surgically remove the cyst. This may be done if draining doesn’t work or if you have an internal cyst that’s hard to reach and requires treatment.
Most types of cysts can’t be prevented. However, there are exceptions.
Women prone to ovarian cysts may be able to prevent new cysts from forming by using hormonal contraceptives.
Cleaning your eyelid near the eyelash line with a gentle cleanser can help keep the oil ducts from becoming blocked. This may help prevent chalazia.
You can prevent pilonidal cysts from forming by keeping the skin in the affected area clean and dry. Getting up every so often instead of sitting for a long time can also help prevent these cysts.