What Is a Cyst?

    A cyst is a sac-like pocket of tissue that contains fluid, air, or other substances. Cysts can grow almost anywhere in your body or on your skin.

    There are many different types of cysts. Most cysts are benign, or non-cancerous.

    Whether a cyst needs treatment depends on a number of factors, including:

    • the type of cyst
    • the location of the cyst
    • if the cyst causing pain or discomfort
    • whether the cyst is infected

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    Recognizing Cysts

    A cyst can appear as a bump on your skin. It may also feel like a small lump if it is growing just under your skin.

    Some cysts grow deep inside your body where you cannot feel them. However, they may cause other symptoms. For example, ovarian cysts can cause hormonal problems. Polycystic kidney disease can affect kidney function.

    Cysts usually grow slowly and have a smooth surface. They can be tiny or very large. Most cysts are not painful. They usually do not cause problems unless they are:

    • infected
    • very large
    • growing in a sensitive area
    • affecting the function of an organ

    Why Do Cysts Form?

    Cysts form for a number of different reasons. They can be caused by:

    • infections
    • 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.

    Cysts can grow almost anywhere in your body.

    Some cysts occur as part of another condition, such as polycystic kidney disease (PKD) or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Some of the more common types of cysts include:

    Sebaceous Cyst

    These are small, benign bumps filled with an oily substance called sebum. They are also known as epidermoid cysts.

    Sebaceous cysts often form within hair follicles. They can also be caused by ruptured sebaceous glands. These are the glands that make oil for your skin and hair.

    In rare cases, sebaceous cysts can be caused by an inherited condition called Gardner’s syndrome.

    Ganglion Cyst

    These benign cysts usually form on your wrist or hand. However, they can also develop on your feet. The reason why they form is not known.

    Ganglion cysts tend to occur along a tendon sheath. They are more common in women than in men.

    Ovarian Cyst

    Ovarian cysts form when the follicle that normally releases an egg does not open. This causes fluid to build up and form a cyst. These cysts occur most often between the onset of puberty and menopause. They are usually found during pelvic exams.

    Ovarian cysts are associated with an increased risk of cancer when they occur after menopause. 

    Breast Cyst

    Benign cysts can develop in your breasts when your milk ducts are blocked. They commonly occur in women in their thirties and forties. They can cause pain or tenderness in the affected area.

    Chalazia

    Chalazia are benign cysts that occur on your eyelids when the oil gland duct is blocked. These cysts can cause tenderness, light sensitivity, and painful swelling. If they get too big, they can cause vision problems.

    Pilonidal Cyst

    These cysts form near the top of the buttocks. They are usually filled with skin debris, 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. Chronic infections in these cysts might increase your risk of a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. (MayoClinic)

    When to See Your Doctor

    Schedule an appointment with your doctor if your cyst becomes very painful or red. This could be the sign of a rupture or infection.

    A doctor should check your cyst even if it is not causing any pain or other problems. Abnormal growths can be a sign of cancer. Therefore, your doctor might want to remove a tissue sample for testing.

    Treating Cysts

    Home Care

    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.

    Medical Care

    Common methods of medical treatment for cysts include:

    • draining the cyst using a needle: This is done if a cyst becomes infected or ruptures. The fluids or other matter in the cyst will be removed.
    • using anti-inflammatory medications: Cortisone injections can reduce inflammation in a cyst.
    • surgical removal of the cyst: This may be used when draining does not work. Hard-to-reach internal cysts can be surgically removed instead of drained if treatment is needed.

    What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

    Benign cysts usually do not cause long-term problems. Sometimes they even go away on their own.

    Cysts can grow back after being drained. If you have a cyst that keeps returning, you might want to consider having it surgically removed.

    Your doctor will discuss treatment if you have cancerous cysts. The outlook will vary depending on the type of cancer involved.

    Preventing Cysts

    Most types of cysts cannot be prevented. However, there are certain 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. You can also put powder on your skin to keep it dry. Getting up every so often instead of sitting for a long time can also help prevent these cysts.

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