Cysts are sacs that form in the skin or anywhere in the body. They’re filled with fluid, air, or other material.

There are many different types of cysts. Causes include:

  • blockages in ducts
  • swollen hair follicles
  • infection

Cysts are typically harmless and don’t always require treatment. They should, however, be diagnosed by a doctor.

Continue reading to learn when a cyst should be removed, how they’re typically removed, and why you should have a doctor perform the procedure.

It can be difficult to identify a cyst versus a boil, skin abscess, or something else that may need treatment. That’s why it’s important to see a doctor for diagnosis.

It’s possible your cyst may not have to be removed. Your doctor may recommend other treatment depending on the type and location of the cyst.

When a cyst must be removed, here are some methods your doctor may use:

Drainage

Under local anesthesia, a doctor will make a small incision through which the cyst can be drained. Your doctor may pack some gauze into the wound, which can be removed after a day or two. To treat or prevent infection, you may need to take antibiotics. Your wound should heal within a week or two.

Drainage is not recommended for epidermoid or pilar cysts on the skin. The procedure leaves these cysts in the skin, which will eventually cause them to recur.

Drainage can also cause scarring on the surface of the skin and under the skin. This can make cysts more difficult to remove in the future.

Fine-needle aspiration

For this procedure, a doctor will insert a thin needle into the cyst to drain the fluid. This should make the lump less noticeable.

This method may be used for breast cysts, which can sometimes recur. Fine-needle aspiration is also used for biopsy procedures to determine if a breast lump contains cancer cells.

Surgery

Surgery is an option for some types of cysts, such as ganglion, Baker’s, and dermoid cysts. Local anesthetic can be used to numb the area. After making a small cut, the doctor will pull out the cyst.

Surgical removal of the cyst will result in a scar. The size of the scar depends on several factors, including the size of the cyst.

Ganglion cysts and Baker’s cysts sometimes recur after surgery.

Laparoscopy

Certain cysts, such as those that develop in the ovaries, can be removed laparoscopically. In this procedure, a surgeon uses a scalpel to make a few small incisions. Then they insert a thin camera called a laparoscope into one of the incisions to help them view and remove the cyst.

This procedure results in only a few small scars because of the small size of the incisions.

Your doctor will provide aftercare instructions. These may include the following recommendations:

  • Keep the wound covered with a dry bandage. There may be some drainage for a few days, so change the bandage as advised.
  • If gauze was placed in the wound, you may need to return to the doctor’s office for removal or you may be told how to remove it yourself.
  • If oral antibiotics were prescribed, take them until you finish them all, even if your wound looks healed.
  • Use antibiotic creams or ointments as advised.
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers or pain medications as prescribed.

Healing time depends on the type of cyst and how it was removed.

It may be difficult to know for sure if you have a cyst or something else entirely. Trying to remove it yourself can be risky for many reasons:

  • If it’s not a cyst, you could be making the situation worse.
  • Popping, squeezing, or bursting a cyst with a sharp object can lead to infection and permanent scarring.
  • If the cyst is already infected, you risk spreading it further.
  • You can harm surrounding tissues.
  • If you don’t remove the whole cyst, it can become infected or eventually grow back.

For these reasons, you should not attempt to remove a cyst on your own.

Most cysts on the skin are harmless and resolve on their own. But some cysts may be a sign of a more serious underlying health condition. Before trying any home remedies, see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

If your doctor approves, here are some home remedies you can try:

  • Use over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief.
  • Apply a warm compress for 10 to 15 minutes, 3 to 5 times a day. This may help ease inflammation and encourage drainage.
  • For eyelid cysts, use OTC eyelid wipes to clean up any drainage.
  • For breast cysts, wear a supportive bra that fits well. You can also try a cool compress.

It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for a cyst to clear up. If it doesn’t, talk to your doctor about additional remedies or cyst removal.

Most types of cysts can’t be prevented, but you can lower your risk for some.

Type of cystDescriptionPrevention tips
Epidermoid cystEpidermoid cysts can develop anywhere under the skin, especially the face, neck, and trunk. They’re slow-growing and usually painless.
Breast cystBreast cysts are filled with fluid and usually not cancerous. They’re smooth, easily movable with distinct edges, and can be tender to the touch. There’s no clear prevention, but changes to hormonal contraceptives or hormone therapy may help prevent formation of new cysts.
Ganglion cystGanglion cysts typically develop on the hands or wrists but can also occur on the feet or ankles. They can be round or oval and are filled with jellylike fluid. They’re usually painless unless pressing on a nerve.
Pilonidal cystPilonidal cysts may contain hair and dead skin cells. They tend to occur near the tailbone and can become infected and painful. They can be present at birth or develop after an injury. You can lower the risk of future infections by keeping the area clean and avoiding tight-fitting clothing.
Ovarian cystOvarian cysts are filled with fluid. They’re typically harmless and don’t cause symptoms. You can’t prevent ovarian cysts, but you can catch them early if you have regular gynecological exams.
ChalazionA chalazion is a slow-growing, painless cyst in the eyelid that develops when oil-producing glands become clogged. Wash your hands before touching your eyes, disinfect and replace contact lenses as directed, remove make-up before bed, and discard old makeup.
Baker’s (popliteal) cystA Baker’s cyst forms behind the knee due to injury or disease that causes fluid to build up. It can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling.
Cystic acneIn cases of severe acne, deep pus-filled cysts can develop. They can be painful and may lead to scarring.
Pilar cystCysts that develop around hair follicles are pilar cysts and are typically located on the scalp. They tend to run in families.
Mucous cystA mucous cyst is one that develops when mucus clogs a gland. They can be found on or around the mouth or on the hands and fingers. In some cases, you can prevent future mucous cysts by removing mouth piercings.
Branchial cleft cystBranchial cleft cysts are congenital anomalies found near the jaw and neck.
Dermoid cystsDermoid cysts are closed sacs that form on or near the surface of the skin anywhere on the body. Most are congenital and can continue to grow.

While it may be tempting, you should not try to remove a cyst on your own. Most cysts on the skin are harmless and resolve without treatment.

While there are a few home remedies, some cysts do require medical treatment. It’s best to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment recommendations.