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Sebaceous Cyst: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Dr. Sunil Vaswani    04-11-2016 Consult

The term refers to either an "epidermoid cyst," which originates from the skin, or a "pilar cyst," which comes from hair follicles.

These cysts are closed sacs that can be found under the skin of the entire body, except for the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. A cyst usually is a slow-growing lump that can move easily under the skin. A foul odor may be noticed from the overlying skin.

Causes: 
Sebaceous cysts form out of your sebaceous gland. The sebaceous gland produces the oil called sebum that coats your hair and skin. Cysts can develop if the gland or its duct, the passage where oil is able to leave, becomes damaged or blocked. This usually occurs due to a trauma to the area. The trauma may be a scratch, a surgical wound, or a skin condition, such as acne. Sebaceous cysts grow slowly, so the trauma may have occurred months or weeks before you notice the cyst.

Other causes of a sebaceous cyst may include:
  1. a misshapen or deformed duct
  2. damage to the cells during a surgery
  3. genetic conditions, such as Gardner's syndrome or basal cell nevus syndrome

Symptoms:
Small cysts are typically not painful. Large cysts can range from uncomfortable to considerably painful. Large cysts on the face and neck may cause pressure and pain. This type of cyst is typically filled with white flakes of keratin, which is also a key element that makes up your skin and nails. Most cysts are soft to the touch.

Areas on the body where cysts are usually found include:
  1. scalp
  2. face
  3. neck
  4. back

A sebaceous cyst is considered unusual- and possibly cancerous- if it has the following characteristics:
  1. a diameter that is larger than five centimeters
  2. a fast rate of reoccurrence after being removed
  3. signs of infection, such as redness, pain, or pus drainage

Most epidermoid cysts don't cause problems or need treatment. See your doctor if you have one that:
  1. Grows rapidly
  2. Ruptures or becomes painful or infected
  3. Occurs in a spot that's constantly irritated
  4. Bothers you for cosmetic reasons

Treatment:
You can usually leave a cyst alone if it doesn't cause discomfort or cosmetic problems. If you seek treatment, talk with your doctor about these options:
  1. Injection: This treatment involves injecting the cyst with a medicine that reduces swelling and inflammation.
  2. Incision and drainage: With this method, your doctor makes a small cut in the cyst and gently squeezes out the contents. This is a fairly quick and easy method, but cysts often recur after this treatment.
  3. Minor surgery: Your doctor can remove the entire cyst. You may need to return to the doctor's office to have stitches removed. Minor surgery is safe and effective and usually prevents cysts from recurring. If your cyst is inflamed, your doctor may delay the surgery.
  4. Lasers: This method involves using a carbon dioxide laser to vaporize the cyst. It results in minimal scarring.

 

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