Cysts on the skin are often harmless, but can vary in shape, size, location, and severity depending on the type of cyst you have. There are various common types of cysts that your dermatologist can identify and treat.
By definition, a cyst is an abnormal sac within the body that contains liquid, air, or other material. Usually, cysts are benign, meaning they have no harmful effects on your body. Occasionally, depending on the nature of the cyst, it can be malignant and have the potential to cause harm. While cysts can develop anywhere in the body, your dermatologist can usually help when the cyst is visible.
Let’s take a look at some everyday types of cysts.
An epidermoid cyst is a cyst that forms within or near the hair follicle. As such, it is also referred to as a keratinous cyst because of the protein created by follicles. Epidermoid cysts are most often formed when the protective layers of skin don’t slough off as they should naturally. These epidermal cells end up deeper in the skin and produce keratin, a protein the body uses to protect itself and generate hair and nails. The keratin gets stuck beneath the skin and causes swelling. An epidermoid cyst can also be the result of a minor injury to your skin or hair follicle.
An epidermoid cyst is most often harmless, but it can cause pain and irritation, and in some rare cases can lead to skin cancer. If your epidermoid cyst causes irritation or is unsightly, your dermatologist can remove it in a few different ways. Sometimes an injection of a steroidal medication at the site will resolve the cyst’s inflammation without the need for further treatment. If further treatment is necessary, your dermatologist may apply or inject anesthesia into the affected cyst and drain it by making a small incision. Epidermoid cysts can often recur because these processes don’t always fully remove the cyst walls of a cyst. A cyst wall is essentially its shell or exterior – the outer limits of the sac. When these are successfully extracted, a cyst will not grow back.
A sebaceous cyst is like a large pimple. Much like acne, sebaceous cysts form in the sebaceous gland of the hair follicle, where the skin’s natural oil is produced. When the sebaceous gland is blocked by dirt or excess oil, sebum (oil) builds up under the skin.
Sebaceous cysts can form quickly or develop over weeks and months. The most common places for sebaceous cysts to form are the face, back, and chest as these are where most sebaceous glands exist. A sebaceous cyst may disappear on its own, but they can come back. It’s not usually necessary to treat a sebaceous cyst unless it causes discomfort, becomes inflamed, or if it’s a cosmetic disturbance.
If you have a sebaceous cyst that swells and is inflamed or painful, your dermatologist can treat this problem with a simple excision and antibiotics.
Malignant cysts are any cysts that contain cancerous or precancerous cells. The easiest way to determine whether or not a cyst is malignant is with a CT scan or biopsy. If a CT scan shows that a cyst has solid material within it, it is possibly malignant. A biopsy of the cyst can then determine whether there are cancer cells within a cyst. A biopsy is a simple procedure in which a small scraping or larger portion of the cyst is taken and analyzed for cancerous material. Malignant cysts are uncommon in the skin, but do occur. It’s important to seek your dermatologist’s advice on any cysts in order to rule out cancer.
Even if most cysts don’t require treatment, they should all be checked by a skilled practitioner. If you want peace of mind or to remove an unsightly cyst, call your New England dermatologist today.