Have a “pimple” that never seems to heal? Resist the urge to pop it because it could be a benign cyst.
Many patients seek dermatological treatment after discovering a bump or lump that may fluctuate in size. Sometimes, it comes to their attention because the area is inflamed or tender. This growth can be the result of a cyst developing in the skin.
What is a cyst?
A cyst is a dome-shaped lesion that contains fluid or semi-fluid material within a closed pocket of tissue. It can feel firm or fluctuant (unstable) and often distends the overlying skin, which appears as a lump. Cysts are a common occurrence and are mostly benign (non-cancerous).
There are many different types of cysts, and these can vary in appearance depending on their type and location. Cysts can form anywhere on the body – common sites include the face, scalp, upper arms and back. Cysts can also develop in the genital region.
What do cysts look like?
Epidermoid cysts are the most common type of cysts. Usually found underneath the skin, they look like round, firm nodules that are flesh-coloured or yellowish in appearance. There may also be a central pore or punctum (a small distinct point) present. These cysts contain keratin, a soft, cheese-like material with a distinct odour.
Pilar cysts are common dermal cysts that typically form on the scalp. This type of cyst feels firm or hard to the touch, and there is usually no punctum seen. Pilar cysts occur mostly in middle-aged adults.
How are cysts treated?
Asymptomatic cysts do not require treatment. However, patients often opt to remove cysts if they are increasing in size or become infected and inflamed. A course of antibiotics may be needed if the cyst is inflamed. In some cases, cysts are treated by making an incision and draining its contents. However, cysts may recur after this type of treatment. The most common and effective way to remove a cyst is by cutting out the lesion entirely. It is a surgical procedure that is done under local anaesthesia, and patients receive stitches to close the incision after removal of the cyst. A specimen of the cyst can be sent for biopsy to confirm that it is benign. Patients may be able to claim the surgical expenses of this procedure from MediSave or insurance.