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Common Skin Problems – Sebaceous Skin Cysts

A cyst is a closed sac or bladder-like structure and is not a normal part of skin or body tissue. Cysts are common; they can occur anywhere in the body in persons of all ages and feel like small peas under the surface of the skin. Cysts vary in size. They can grow so large that they displace normal organs and tissues or may be so small as to be detectable only under a microscope. They generally contain a gaseous, liquid, semisolid substance, or other material. These skin cysts are usually noncancerous, closed pockets of tissue.

Symptoms of Skin Cysts

Sometimes a cyst can be felt when feeling an abnormal "lump". For instance, cysts of the skin or tissues under the skin are normally obvious. Cysts in the breasts may also be noticeable. This means that you can feel them when examining the area with the fingers. Cysts of internal organs like the kidneys or liver may or may not produce symptoms. They may also not be detected by the affected person. Often, these cysts are first revealed through imaging studies (x-ray, ultrasound, computerized tomography or CAT Scan, and magnetic resonance imaging or MRI).

Cysts usually are:

  • Painless

  • Slow-growing

  • Small in size

  • Smooth to the touch when they are rolled under the skin

Causes of cysts

Cysts can be caused by infections, clogging of sebaceous glands (oil glands), or around foreign bodies, such as earrings. They may arise through a variety of processes in the body that include:

  • Constant inflammatory conditions

  • Flaws in developing organs in the embryo

  • Genetic (inherited) conditions

  • Infections

  • Tumors

  • Wear and tear or just obstructions to the flow of fluid

Treatment of Cysts

The treatment for cysts depends on the cause, along with their location. Very large cysts normally result in symptoms because of their size. They may have to be surgically taken out. Oftentimes the fluid within a cyst may be drained or aspirated, by inserting a needle or catheter into the cyst, resulting in collapse of the cyst. Radiologic imaging is sometimes used to guide in draining cyst contents if it is not easily accessible.

In case of a suspicion that the cyst is cancerous, it is usually extracted by surgery. Alternatively, a biopsy of the cyst wall (capsule) is taken to rule out malignancy. In some cases, drained fluid from a cyst is studied under a microscope to decide if cancer cells are present in it. If a cyst occurs as part of a chronic medical condition (for instance, in polycystic ovary syndrome or fibrocystic breast disease), the treatment is usually directed at the underlying medical condition.

As a rule, cysts don’t cause pain unless they rupture or get infected or inflamed. Some of them disappear of their own accord without treatment. Others could have to be drained. This involves piercing it with a sharp object and draining it. Some cysts may be treated with an injection of cortisone medication to make it shrink. Cysts that don’t respond to other treatments or reoccur have to be removed surgically.