A skin cyst is a lump that sits beneath the skin, filled with fluid and is harmless. However, there are other lumps that resemble a cyst which may require treatment.
- Small benign lumps
- Sometimes confused with boils
- Infected cysts will need treatment
If you are worried about a lump or cyst on your body, you can consult a doctor through our private video service. They will be able to advise you on whether you will need treatment or require further examination.
What are skin cysts?
Skin cysts are very common lumps that form beneath the skin. They are categorised under two types: epidermoid and pilar. They don’t usually cause any problems, but if a cyst becomes infected then it may require treatment.
Epidermoid cysts develop from a process by which cells move deeper in the skin and multiply. Skin cells produce keratin, which allows the skin to remain strong and supple. However, when the skin cells travel deeper, the keratin they secrete can collect and create a pocket. This then forms into a cyst. Epidermoid cysts are more likely to be found in young adults, and are more prevalent in people who have acne. They are not contagious and are not passed down through family.
Pilar cysts form from the same process but on hair follicles, so are usually found on the scalp. They usually affect middle-aged adults and are more common in women.
In most cases, a cyst is not harmful. However, cancerous lumps can sometimes be mistaken for cysts, so if you notice something new it’s advisable to have it looked at. You should consult a doctor if you develop a lump with a diameter of 5 cm or more, if it's growing rapidly, or if it's red and inflamed.
It is also possible for a cyst to resemble a boil, which are spots that grow much larger than cysts. Boils heal quicker than cysts, as they fill with pus before bursting and leave no scar.
If you have a lump on your skin that you are unsure about, or would like to confirm that a cyst is not harmful, you can consult our doctors using our private video consultation service. You can make an appointment at a convenient time for you. Our doctors are GMC registered and can help to diagnose whether the lump is a cyst and whether it requires treatment.
How are skin cysts diagnosed?
Skin cysts can be diagnosed by a simple examination by a doctor. Depending on your family medical history, a doctor may want to make sure that a lump found on your skin is not cancerous.
Will I need tests?
In most cases, tests will not be necessary. However, if a doctor suspects that the lump may be an indication of something else, they may want to take a sample of skin cells to be analysed in a laboratory. A doctor may also recommend a biopsy, to rule out the possibility of a skin growth.
What will a doctor normally advise?
A doctor may advise not to squeeze or scratch the cyst, as this can leave it prone to infection and scarring.
Because they do tend to be harmless, a doctor will normally just advise the patient to keep an eye on a skin cyst and see whether it grows. If it causes issues, a doctor may offer to remove it.
What treatments are there for skin cysts?
If a skin cyst has been caught and is causing soreness, there are a few self-help methods that can alleviate discomfort. One solution is to hold a warm damp flannel over the cyst, to reduce any inflammation that might have developed.
If a cyst becomes infected, it might need to be treated with antibiotics.
If a cyst is swollen, a doctor can also drain the cyst in clinic, by making a small incision in the skin.
Removal is a more permanent option. During this minor procedure, a doctor will numb the skin with local anaesthetic before cutting the cyst out. However, this procedure will leave a scar and is not a guarantee against a cyst forming again.
How are cysts treated?
Cysts may be treated in a number of ways depending on whether they require removing or not. If a cyst has built up a lot of pus, a doctor can make an incision to squeeze it out or inject the cyst with some medicine, which may reduce the swelling.
If the cyst is particularly painful and needs to be removed, then a doctor can administer a local anaesthetic before cutting it out.
What treatments are there?
There are three categories of treatment for cysts: injection, incision and removal. If a doctor doesn’t deem these methods necessary, then they may recommend a simple alleviation technique of placing a damp warm flannel on the cyst to reduce any swelling, if present.
Are there side effects?
An incision or removal of the cyst can leave a scar and cause some pain, depending on the size of the cut.
Sometimes, breaks in the skin can become infected, and require treatment.
Can I consult a doctor about cysts online?
Yes. If you would like to speak to a doctor about cysts, you can use our video consultation service to seek advice about potential treatment, or whether further examination is needed. You can book an appointment at a time most suitable for you.