I have a skin bump! What is it?

What is a cyst? How do I know if I have one?

A cyst is a small mass beneath the skin.  It is confused with a lipoma, or a collection of fat, but, unlike a lipoma, a cyst is fluid filled and can become infected or occasionally drain.  If you have a small mass beneath the skin that has grown in size, become tender or red, then you could have a cyst.  A cyst is a collection of skin cells or fluid that is encapsulated in a sac.  Over time the sac can grow in size or become infected, both of which need attention.  They can be called sebaceous, epidermal or pilar cysts.  Each has a slightly different cause but can present very similarly.

What is a lipoma?

A lipoma is a collection of fat that has grown into a ball. It rarely gets infected and so can be easily removed, often in the office.  If the lipoma is in a sensitive area or is relatively large, we may decide to remove it in the operating room for comfort and safety.  

How are cysts and lipomas treated?

A mass beneath the skin that grows in size, becomes painful or red needs to be removed.  If it is a cyst, the sac of fluid is best removed BEFORE it gets infected.  If it is infected, the infectious material can be drained, but the sac is very difficult to remove at that time.  The tissue around an infection is very inflamed and makes removal of the capsule very difficult.

Both masses can be removed by making an incision over the top.  The fat or cyst can then be freed from the surrounding tissue and removed from the skin.  If there is no sign of infection, the skin can be closed with stitches.  The stitches will need to be removed in 7-10 days. 

Jenna Wishnew Dr Wishnew is a Board Certified General Surgeon practicing in the North Texas area She specializes in general surgery, gastroparesis, wound care, vein concerns and robotic surgery.

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