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Everything you ever wanted to know about a Sebaceous Cyst

Updated on December 6, 2015

I recently had a marble-sized growth removed from my shoulder. It developed rather quickly and freaked me out a little because it was a MARBLE-SIZED GROWTH ON MY SHOULDER! When I inquired about the nature of the growth, I was told that it was a Sebaceous cyst. I decided that I would try to learn all I could about them in hopes of educating myself so that I never develop another one. This is what I found:


A Sebaceous cyst, also known as an epidermoid cyst, Keratin cyst, or epidermal cyst, is characterized by a fluid filled pouch that develops and is often located on the face, neck, and upper body of the afflicted. The pouch is most often filled with a white, fatty substance called Keratin, as well as fibrous skin material, and a plasma based fluid. Instances of a contained make up of a combination of these materials and others have also been reported. While the development of a sebaceous cyst is not generally regarded as lethal, if left untreated, the inflicted area can grow to become unsightly and can, in rare occasions, cause infection.


A Sebaceous cyst can be caused by several factors.

Sebaceous Gland Blockage. Sebaceous glands can be blocked due to circumstances including excessive build up of sweat and dirt that can harden and form layers of build-up if the patient does not practice adequate hygiene. In addition, glands can be blocked by excessive trauma to the body. Studies have shown that those involved in pursuits such as boxing, certain instances of physical abuse, as well as those involved in violent motor vehicle accidents, have shown development of Sebaceous cysts in the affected areas.

In-grown hair follicles. Follicles that have been impacted by skin trauma or restriction on growth and grow back into the skin can lead to severe irritation, often resulting in swelling of the afflicted area as it fills with Keratin, puss, and other materials that have found a new space to occupy or are employed in relieving the problem. If left untreated, in-grown hair follicles can lead to infection. Disorderly hair follicles raise the most cause for concern as they contain the highest risk of infection and are the most common causes of a Sebaceous Cyst.

Botfly. A form of sebaceous cyst that has garnered new accreditation is that caused by the Botfly, Dermatobia Hominis, which is the only known species of Botfly to use the epidermis of humans as host for its larvae. Contact with the fly and the resulting affliction can be diminished by adequate preventative measures. Although this makes it less of a danger as only a few people annually are affected, the risk of infection is still present and requires consideration.

Gardner Syndrome. The term used to describe the hereditary affliction characterized by a development of sebaceous cysts, as well as tumors and other polyps, which develop often on the colon and can lead to colon cancer. It is one of the few known causes of sebaceous cysts acquired through generations. When one parent is afflicted, there is a 50 percent chance that the Syndrome will be passed on to their offspring. Gardner Syndrome is considered a terminal disease as there are no known cures and patients generally do not live past 45 years of age.


Non-Infected State. A Sebaceous cyst initially develops as a small lump no larger than a pea on the Epidermis. It will feel soft and yielding to the touch as the lump contains a semi-viscous fluid. A lump that is solid to the touch may be an indicator of a tumor and should be brought to the attention of a doctor immediately. It is usually not painful and may be forgotten or disregarded.

Infection. A Sebaceous cyst may become infected. This event is usually characterized by an increasing redness of the afflicted area, as well as increasing soreness and tenderness to the touch. In addition, the cyst itself, as well as the surrounding area, may feel warm to the touch. Often an oily, foul smelling substance which is characterized to have the consistency of cottage cheese will emit from the lump.


A licensed medical practitioner will usually be able to quickly identify the affliction by firsthand examination and recommend steps for treatment. In some cases, blood work might be necessary if the affliction is suspected to be hereditary or if the risk of infection proves to be cause for alarm.


Surgical Operation. In the majority of cases, surgery is recommended to remove the cyst before the risk of infection presents itself. This is usually done by numbing the area with the use of anesthetic and using a scalpel to make a small incision directly across the diameter of the lump. If the cyst is small enough, a technique called Lancing is utilized, which is the removal of the oily substance contained within by extracting it with a needle or syringe. If the cyst is determined to be too large for Lancing to be effective, the operating physician will usually use the scalpel to disconnect the cyst from the interior walls and remove it intact. On occasion, due to excessive growth making the cyst to large to remove as a whole or mistakes related to medical malpractice, the surgery requires additional attention to locate and remove all of the cystic fragments as necessary to protect infection.

Alternative Methods. A less regarded method for sebaceous cyst removal is the application of a heating pad to the area. This method is practiced with the aim of warming the fluid contained within the cyst to a point where it can be absorbed by the body. This method is not well documented and open to speculation as to its merits.


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