Sebaceous cysts are common noncancerous cysts of the skin.
Cysts are abnormalities in the body that may contain liquid or semiliquid
Sebaceous cysts are mostly found on the face, neck, or
torso. They grow slowly and are not life-threatening, but they may become
uncomfortable if they go unchecked.
Doctors usually diagnose a cyst with only a physical
examination and medical history. In some cases, a cyst will be examined more
thoroughly for signs of cancer.
Causes of a sebaceous cyst
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
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:
misshapen or deformed duct
to the cells during a surgery
conditions, such as Gardner’s syndrome or basal cell nevus syndrome
Symptoms of sebaceous cyst
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:
A sebaceous cyst is considered unusual — and possibly
cancerous — if it has the following characteristics:
diameter that is larger than five centimeters
fast rate of reoccurrence after being removed
of infection, such as redness, pain, or pus drainage
Diagnosis of a sebaceous cyst
Doctors often diagnose a sebaceous cyst after a simple
physical examination. If your cyst is unusual, your doctor may order additional
tests to rule out possible cancers. You may also need these tests if you wish
to have the cyst surgically removed.
Common tests used for a sebaceous cyst include:
scans, which help your doctor find the best route for surgery and spot
which identify the contents inside the cyst
biopsy, which involves removal of a small amount of tissue from the cyst to be
examined in a laboratory for signs of cancer
Treatment of sebaceous cyst
Your doctor can treat a cyst by draining it or by surgically
removing it. Normally, cysts are removed. This is not because they are
dangerous but rather for cosmetic reasons. Since most cysts are not harmful to
your health, your doctor will allow you to pick the treatment option that works
It is important to remember that without surgical removal,
your cyst will usually come back. The best treatment is to ensure complete
removal through surgery. Some people do decide against surgery, however,
because it can cause scarring.
Your doctor may use one of the following methods to remove
wide excision: completely removes a cyst but can leave a long scar
excision: causes minimal scarring but carries a risk that the cyst will return
with punch biopsy excision: the laser is used to make a small hole to drain
cyst contents and the outer walls of the cyst are removed about a month later
After your cyst is removed, your doctor may give you an
antibiotic ointment to prevent infection. You should use this until the healing
process is complete. You may also be given a scar cream to reduce the
appearance of any surgical scars.
Outlook for a sebaceous cyst
Sebaceous cysts are generally not cancerous. Cysts left
untreated can become very large and may eventually require surgical removal if
they become uncomfortable.
If you have a complete surgical removal, the cyst will most
likely not return in the future.
In rare cases, the removal site may become infected. Contact
your doctor if your skin shows any signs of infection such as redness and pain or
if you develop a fever. Most infections will go away with antibiotics, but some
can be deadly if untreated.