A sebaceous cyst is a small sac-like bump that can appear on any area of the body. Due to its existence under the skin, the cyst is also called an epidermal cyst or epidermoid cyst. A sebaceous cyst is sometimes called a keratin cyst, because the cyst contains a jelly-like white or yellow cheesy substance made of keratin. Keratin is a protein that often has a foul odor due to its composition.
Sebaceous cysts can be found in any part of the body, but are most common on the face, neck, back of the ears, earlobes, back and chest; they can also occur in the genital area. Sebaceous cysts can occur in various sizes. When they occur in the genital area, they are sometimes confused with genital herpes. A doctor can tell the difference between a sebaceous cyst and genital herpes.
Usually a sebaceous cyst will not disappear without being surgically removed. Most cysts don’t give much trouble, but may look bad. If a sebaceous cyst appears on the face, neck, arms or ears, the area can look deformed due to the size of the cyst. Many people have sebaceous cysts removed for cosmetic reasons. However, some sebaceous cysts can be uncomfortable if they grow to a large size. (I had one removed from the middle of my back. It was the size of a golf ball and it was very uncomfortable when I was lying in bed on my back.)
Treatment for sebaceous cysts
Your doctor may be able to remove a sebaceous cyst in the office, or you may need to be referred to a surgeon, depending on the location and the size of the cyst. The surgical incision should be performed carefully to remove the contents of the cyst along with the sac-cover. It is important to remove the sebaceous cyst rather than draining it. Draining the sac of the pus, keratin and sebum will likely create an avenue for a future infection in the area. If the cyst and sac-cover is not totally removed, there is a great possibility of the cyst growing back and getting larger.
If the sebaceous cyst is infected, it will be tender to the touch, it will be warm and red, and you may also have a fever. If there is an infection, the doctor can order antibiotics and pain medication to be taken until the infection has resolved. You and your doctor may choose to remove the cyst after the infection has subsided.
What causes sebaceous cysts?
Sebaceous cysts can be caused by excessive testosterone levels and other hormonal imbalances in the body. Trauma to the skin may involve the hair follicles which may result in cyst formation. Sometimes blocked sebaceous glands will trigger bacterial infections and cause the formation of cysts.
Sebaceous cysts can be detected by observation of the skin for lumps, bumps and yellowish fatty protrusions with or without tenderness and redness. If surgically removed, the entire cyst along with its sac must be removed. If not removed properly, the area could become severely infected. The cyst should be removed by a medical professional only. Don’t try to remove the cyst by squeezing it. You won’t remove all of the contents by squeezing and you could cause a severe infection called sepsis or septicemia if the bacteria enter into the blood stream.
Some doctors will recommend the application of heating pads to treat sebaceous cysts. In some cases they may resolve without surgery. If the cysts continue, it may be necessary to follow up with the surgical removal of the cysts.