Epidermoid Cysts
Epidermoid cysts, also called sebaceous, keratin, or epithelial cysts, are small, hard lumps that develop under the skin.

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What Are Epidermoid Cysts?

Epidermoid cysts, also called sebaceous, keratin, or epithelial cysts, are small, hard lumps that develop under the skin. These cysts are common. They grow slowly. They do not cause other symptoms and are not cancerous. Epidermoid cysts are often found on the face, head, neck, back, or genitals. They range in size from a quarter of an inch to two inches across. They look like a small bump, are tan to yellow in color, and are filled with thick, smelly matter. They do not cause any pain and can usually be ignored.

What Causes Epidermoid Cysts?

Epidermoid cysts are usually caused by a buildup of keratin. Keratin is a protein that occurs naturally in skin cells. Cysts develop when the protein is trapped below the skin because of damage to the skin or to a hair follicle. This damage can be caused by acne or excessive exposure to the sun. The blockage causes keratin to accumulate, causing the bump or cyst to develop.

An epidermoid cyst is more likely to develop in people with acne or other skin conditions.

How Are Epidermoid Cysts Diagnosed?

To diagnose epidermoid cysts, a physician will examine the bump and surrounding skin, as well as take a medical history. He or she will ask for details on how long the bump has been present and whether it has changed over time. Physicians can usually diagnose an epidermoid cyst by observation, but a dermatologist is sometimes asked to confirm the diagnosis.

How Are Epidermoid Cysts Treated?

Most epidermoid cysts either stop growing and stay as-is or go away on their own without treatment. Physicians will usually make note of a cyst and monitor it during each checkup to make sure that it has not changed. Since epidermoid cysts are very rarely cancerous, they do not pose a risk. Most are never treated.

Treatment may be required if the cyst becomes red, swollen, and painful or is infected. In such cases, treatment options include antibiotics and steroid injections. In rare cases, the cyst may be surgically removed, or cut and drained. The cyst can also be removed for cosmetic reasons.

What Is the Prognosis for Epidermoid Cysts?

In most cases, epidermoid cysts cause no long-term problems. Squeezing out the contents of the cyst can lead to infection, so it’s best to leave the cyst alone.

Once a cyst is drained, there is a possibility that it will grow back. Very rarely, epidermoid cysts can become cancerous.

Written by: Amber Erickson Gabbey
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: George Krucik, MD, MBA
Published: Dec 17, 2013
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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