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Sebaceous Cyst: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

  • Posted on- Apr 18, 2018
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A sebaceous cyst is a just small lump or bumps under the skin. This type of cyst is not cancerous.

They are most often found on the face, neck, upper back, and upper chest, but can occur on other sites of the body as well.

A sebaceous cyst grows very slowly with time and doesn't cause pain. Still, they can become inflamed or infected with the overlying skin turning to red, tender, and sore.

Sometimes, they occur on a site that is constantly irritated, such as a cyst on the patient’s neck that rubs against his collar. In those cases, treatment can help reduce discomfort.

A cheesy, bad-smelling material sometimes drains from the cyst and they can look bad cosmetically, especially if one develops on the patient’s face.

Causes of a Sebaceous Cyst

  • Sebaceous cysts and epidermoid cysts are often talked about interchangeably, but they are different.
  • True sebaceous cysts arise from hair follicles, whereas epidermoid cysts develop from skin cells.
  • Sebaceous cysts sometimes occur when a hair follicle becomes swollen.
  • The cysts originate from the sebaceous glands, the glands that secrete the oily matter (sebum) that helps to lubricate the skin and the hair.
  • Epidermoid cysts originate from the skin. The surface of patient’s skin, known as the epidermis, consists of thin layers of cells. The patient constantly shed the cells.
  • However, when the cells move deeper into the patient’s skin instead of shedding, they can multiply, leading to cyst formation.
  • The cells that form the walls of the cysts secrete a protein, keratin, into the cyst. When the cyst drains, the secretions can be foul-smelling.
  • These cysts are sometimes hereditary. For instance, steatocystoma multiplex is a rare inherited disorder in which multiple sebaceous cysts form.
  • Cysts can remain small for years or they can keep growing larger. In other cases, a sebaceous cyst can disappear on its own.

Sebaceous Cyst Treatment

  • If a sebaceous cyst does not cause problems or looks bad cosmetically, the patient probably doesn’t need any treatment.
  • If it becomes swollen or tender, home treatments may help. Putting a warm moist compress over the cyst may help it drain, for instance.
  • Resist any temptation to pop or squeeze the cyst, like a pimple. But if it's inflamed and causing discomfort, the patient should see a doctor.
  • Before the patient goes, collect information such as noting any recent skin injuries, when you first noticed the cyst, if the patient has had other, and if he has a family history of cysts.
  • The doctor can usually decide if it's a sebaceous cyst just by examining it. The doctor may take some tissue from the cyst and do a biopsy to be sure it's not another type of skin growth.
  • The doctor may decide to drain the cyst or inject the cyst with a steroid medicine that reduces swelling.

Sebaceous Cyst Removal

  • Another approach, especially for a tender, large sebaceous cyst, is to perform surgery to remove it.
  • In some cases, the doctor may use a laser to remove the cyst. This approach may be viewed as a better treatment if the cyst is very large or if it's located in an area of cosmetic concern.
  • After the treatment, be sure the patient knows instructions for self-care once the patient’s get home.
  • Ask if the patient should return for a follow-up visit.
  • Additionally, ask what the patient should look for in terms of complications, and which ones warrant a call back to the doctor.

Sebaceous Cyst Complications

  • Sebaceous cysts can become infected.
  • If the cyst ruptures, it can lead to a boil-like infection, and the patient will need treatment right away.
  • In most cases, however, no complications or side effects occur after treatment to drain or remove the cysts surgically.
  • However, even after successful surgery to remove these cysts, they can sometimes recur.


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