Cysts or Lumps in the Body

A lump or cyst is a closed capsule or sac-like structure, usually filled with liquid, semisolid, or gaseous material. Cysts usually occur within almost any type of the body’s tissue; they vary in size from microscopic to large structures that can displace internal organs. If the sac is filled with pus, it is usually considered an abscess, not a cyst.

There are many causes of cyst formation. The following are some of the major causes of cyst formation:

  • Genetic conditions
  • Tumors
  • Infections
  • Errors in embryonic development
  • Cellular defects
  • Chronic inflammatory conditions
  • Blockages of ducts in the body
  • Parasites
  • Injuries

The majority of small cysts have no symptoms or signs. However, sometimes the cysts can be felt as a lump or bump in the skin or even in the tissues beneath the skin and these cysts are painful. Cysts not associated with the skin but with internal organs may not produce any symptoms if they are small. If the cysts become large and displace or compress other organs or block normal fluid flows in tissues like the liver, pancreas, or other organs, then symptoms related to those organs may develop.


There are hundreds of different types of cysts. Cysts can occur almost anywhere in the body (for example, on the face, breast, scalp or back, behind the knee, arm, groin, and within organs like the liver, ovaries, kidneys, or brain). The majority of cysts are benign, but a few may contain malignant cells. The following list some of the cyst types that may be found in the body:

  • Epidermoid (sebaceous) cyst: usually benign swelling in the skin arising in the sebaceous gland, typically filled with yellowish sebum. These are usually easily seen as they lead to a swelling of the skin. If they become large enough, they can be painful and unsightly.
  • Breast cyst: a fluid-filled sac within the breast. These should always be evaluated to assure that they are a benign cyst and not another growth.
  • Ganglion or synovial cyst: a non-neoplastic soft-tissue collection that may occur in any joint.
  • Dermoid cyst: an abnormal growth containing epidermis, hair follicles, and sebaceous glands, derived from residual embryonic cells.
  • Ovarian cyst: an accumulation of fluid within or on the surface of an ovary; also termed adnexal cysts.
  • PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome): enlarged ovaries due to an endocrine problem that contain a number of fluid-filled cysts (follicles).
  • Baker cyst: a benign swelling of the membranous synovial bursa behind in the knee; also known as a popliteal cyst.
  • Bartholin cyst: formed when a Bartholin gland (at the opening of the vagina) is blocked. A Bartholin cyst can be very painful.
  • Arachnoid cyst: a collection of cerebrospinal fluid covered by arachnoid cells and collagen that develops between the surface of the brain in the cranial base or on the arachnoid membrane.
  • Epididymal cyst: extratesticular spherical cysts in the head of the epididymis
  • Labial cyst: any fluid-filled cyst in the labia of the female reproductive system.
  • Pilonidal cyst: a cyst that contains hair and skin debris near or on the cleft of the buttocks; also known as jeep driver’s disease. Also called pereneal cyst.
  • Nabothian cyst: a mucous-filled cyst on the surface of the cervix.
  • Pineal cyst: a fluid-filled body in the pineal gland (of the brain).
  • Thyroglossal cyst: a fibrous cyst that forms from a persistent thyroglossal duct.
  • Branchial cleft cyst: a cyst composed of epithelial cells that arise on the lateral part of the neck due to congenital failure of obliteration of the second branchial cleft.
  • Choroid plexus cyst: small cysts composed of cerebrospinal fluid trapped by spongy brain cells.
  • Hydatid cyst: Echinococcus spp. tapeworm (larval stage) surrounded by epithelial cells in an organ.
  • Corpus luteum cyst: a type of ovarian cyst that may persist after an egg has been released from a follicle.
  • Colloid cyst: in the brain, a cyst containing gelatinous material.
  • Mucous cyst: a thin sac containing clear fluid that may be found on the lips, mouth, and occasionally in other areas of the body.
  • Pancreatic cyst: sac-like pockets of fluid within the pancreas. Technically, they aren’t cysts because they are lined with scar or inflammatory tissue and therefore they are usually referred to as pseudocysts.
  • Testicular cysts: fluid-filled cysts in the testicles
  • Thyroid cysts: Also called a thyroid nodules, they may be fluid filled or contain some solid components; most are benign but a few may contain malignant components.
  • Liver or hepatic cysts: thin-walled cysts that contain fluid. The majority are benign.
  • Kidney or renal cysts: walled-off fluid-filled areas within the kidney. Some are congenital (polycystic disease).
  • Sinus cysts: abnormal tissue growth, usually in the maxillary sinuses, filled with liquid, air, or semisolid material.
  • Lumbar synovial cyst: a cyst in the lumbar spine that may cause symptoms of spinal stenosis.
  • Pilar cyst: the common cyst that forms from a hair follicle.
  • Tarlov cyst: fluid-filled sacs that form on the base of the spine.
  • Anechoic cyst: any cyst that absorbs sound waves produced by an ultrasound.
  • Hemorrhagic cyst: a cyst that contains blood or has internal bleeding.
  • Maxillary cyst: cysts located in the maxillary sinus area.
  • Conjunctival cysts: fluid-filled on or under the conjunctiva of the eyes.
  • Pericardial cysts: uncommon benign congenital abnormality in the medial mediastinum containing clear fluid.
  • Aneurysmal cyst: These lesions are found in bones and other structures and consist of neoplastic cells and blood vessels that resemble a sponge-like structure; they are neither cysts nor aneurysms, but the term is still used.
  • Acne cyst: aggregations of inflamed and clogged skin oil ducts. Many are not really cysts but are abscesses.
  • Boils: deep skin abscesses that are sometimes mistakenly termed cysts.


The treatment for a cyst depends on the underlying cause and whether or not the cyst is causing discomfort. Some of these cysts can be treated by simply aspirating the cyst contents through a needle or catheter, thereby collapsing the cyst. Other cysts require surgical removal (some cysts like ovarian cysts can be removed by laparoscopic surgery), especially if there’s any suspicion of malignancy.

Medical treatment is usually limited to reducing associated symptoms of their underlying cause(s). Individuals should discuss with their doctors about the best methods to use to get rid of their cysts. Self-treatment by squeezing or popping a cyst is not advised because it could exacerbate the underlying cause in some individuals; in addition, it may cause the cyst to enlarge or become infected.

There are many other home remedies for treatment of certain cyst types. Most people use topical treatments such as tea tree oil, aloe vera, castor oil, and many other compounds with the goal of rupturing the cyst. Check with a doctor before using these home remedies.

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