If you feel a lump in your skin, or if a rubbery pouch is protruding near your wrist or knee, you may have a cyst. Though cysts can be concerning, they are common and usually not problematic.
What is a cyst? It’s a small fluid-filled sac or pocket that can form anywhere on the skin or inside your body. They often appear in the breasts or on the ovaries. Cysts are usually noncancerous, according to Harvard Medical School. You may not even know you have one inside your body unless it shows on an imaging scan. They usually are not painful.
Cysts can result from an infection, a chronic inflammatory condition, fluid backup from duct blockage, blood vessel breakage due to injury, genetic conditions, and even a parasite. Certain types of cysts are common; cysts in general are not preventable.
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Types of Cysts
There are several different types of cysts. Here are some of the most common:
Ganglion cysts: These most often appear on the wrist but can also form around the knee, ankle, and foot joints. They can result from minor injuries or overuse but don’t always have a clear cause. About half will disappear on their own; others can be removed surgically.
Cystic acne: Acne is caused by clogged pores. When that occurs, the skin can become infected, swollen, and red. When these areas extend deep into the skin, they become cysts, which can be painful. Acne is very common, affecting 80% of those between ages 11 and 30, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. But cystic acne is uncommon. It is hormonal and typically has a more severe appearance than other forms of acne. Doctors often prescribe medicines to treat cystic acne, as it can cause permanent scarring or pitting. The medicines include prescription pills and steroid injections, which are generally stronger than topical treatments. A doctor may recommend draining the cysts, which can be done in the office. These types of cysts and acne can be genetic.
Ovarian cysts: These form inside or on the ovaries and are usually not cancerous. They can form during ovulation if the egg is not released, or if the egg sac does not dissolve. Ovarian cysts are common, and many women don’t know they have them. Any pain, swelling, pressure, or other pelvic issues should be examined by a doctor.
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Treatment depends on a cyst’s location and size, as well as the person’s discomfort level. Cysts usually are not dangerous but should be medically evaluated, especially if one doesn’t disappear on its own. If it is painful or uncomfortable, if you don’t like the appearance, or if a doctor thinks it could be problematic, it can be removed. Depending on location and size, cysts can be removed by a primary care doctor or general surgeon.
The first step is seeing your doctor to get a recommendation for treatment. To find a primary care doctor at UPMC, call 1-800-533-UPMC (8762).
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For Journals and Media sources:National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases. Enterovirus D68. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
For News sources:Dr. Amesh Adalja. A Back to School Victim-Finding Spree for Enterovirus 68. Tracking Zebra. Link
The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and non-surgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is the most comprehensive dermatologic laser facility in the region. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond.