A cyst feels like a lump or bump under the skin. The majority of cysts are sacs under the skin that fill up with skin cells and other skin products. This material is a white, cheesy substance which may have an odour.
A cyst can develop for a number of reasons. Sometimes, it is because a hair follicle gets blocked. More often, a cyst occurs because cells from the surface of the skin accidentally find themselves in the deeper layers of the skin. Here, they form a small balloon or sac. As the cells continue to exfoliate, the sac gets filled up with dead skin cells. With time the cyst can enlarge.
Other names for cysts are:
- Pilar cysts – these occur on the scalp
- Epidermoid cysts – these occur anywhere on the body
- Sebaceous cysts – these occur anywhere in the body
- Acne cysts – these occur in areas where there has been a lot of inflammation from acne. Acne cysts are not usually excised but treated with medical therapies.
A cyst does not usually have a head but may have a small punctum. This is a tiny black dot which is where the opening of the cyst is.
Cysts on the skin are not cancerous and nor do they become cancer. Your doctor will usually require histological analysis of any tissue that is removed in order to fully establish that it is a cyst and nothing else. This is because some times other lumps and bumps under the skin, which could be cancerous, can mimic a cyst.
Cyst removal is usually carried out by a Dermatologist but may also be carried out by other with training in skin surgery procedures.
There are many reasons why you might want to have a cyst removed. Some common reasons that people choose to have a cyst removal are:
- You do not like how the cyst looks.
- The cyst has grown and has become very obvious and prominent
- The cyst is catching and rubbing – for example when you brush your hair, or wear certain jewellery or clothes
- The cyst stops you from shaving comfortably
- The cyst is an awkward or sensitive area
- The cyst keeps getting swollen, red and inflamed
- The cyst is growing
- The cyst is tender to touch
- The cyst is itchy
- The cyst has ruptured
- The cyst is leaking, oozing and draining on its own
- The cyst has become inflamed
- An abscess has formed around the cyst
Cysts are simpler to remove when they are smaller. As cysts get bigger, they are more prone to causing discomfort and rupturing.
Once a cyst has developed, it will not go away on its own. This is because a cyst contains a sac that needs to be physically removed.
Cysts commonly occur on the face. Using careful surgical techniques, facial cysts can be removed to leave excellent surgical results.
Milia cysts are very small facial cysts which can be removed without a visible scar.
Acne cysts may require medical treatment before surgical cyst removal is carried out.
Cysts are very common on the scalp and these can be removed with minimal damage to any hair follicles. Scalp cysts can run in families. Some people may have multiple cysts on the scalp that can be treated at the same time.
Cysts are found anywhere on the body and they can be removed using careful surgical technique. This includes the neck, back, chest, arms and legs. Cysts can also be found on the scrotum where they can be removed.
If a cyst has become red, swollen, painful and started to discharge the the cyst may have ruptured causing inflammation and infection. The inflammation and infection is controlled first and then the cyst can be removed.
A cyst is like a small balloon or sac under the skin. If the balloon is just pricked and emptied, it will fill up again. Successful cyst removal involves removal of the whole sac. This can be done safely under local anaesthetic. A small incision is made over the cyst and the balloon is “peeled” out from under the skin. The skin can then be stitched together to leave a small scar. The scar is made as minimally obvious as possible. Stitches may be absorbable or they may be removed in 7 to 10 days after surgery. If the incision is very small (minimally invasive) then a stitch may not be required.
Cysts are not dangerous. Some cysts may grow and burst if they are left alone. When they burst, they can become painful, red and swollen and they will start leaking discharge.