What is a Sebaceous Cyst?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

A sebaceous cyst is a lump that is found on the body. It contains a closed sac that contains an oily substance that resembles cheese. This substance is called sebum. Often the contents of the cyst have a foul odor.

Sebaceous cysts often have a foul odor.
Sebaceous cysts often have a foul odor.

The primary symptom of a sebaceous cyst is a bump that can occur on any part of the body. However, they tend to show up on the face and neck; some people develop them in the breast or abdomen area, and they may also show up in the genital area. Sometimes, a cyst becomes infected. When this occurs, symptoms of infection may include redness and tenderness; sometimes the skin over the cyst may become warm or hot. Likewise, a foul, cheesy-looking substance may begin to drain from the bump.

A sebaceous cyst.
A sebaceous cyst.

In general, a sebaceous cyst is very easy to diagnose. An experienced medical professional can usually tell what it is by simply looking at it. However, doctors sometimes order biopsies in order to make sure a patient doesn't have another condition that looks similar. Treatment is usually easy as well. In fact, most such cysts don't require any treatment, and when left alone, they disappear by themselves over time.

While sebaceous cysts can occur on any part of the body, they tend to show up on the face and neck.
While sebaceous cysts can occur on any part of the body, they tend to show up on the face and neck.

In some cases, waiting for a sebaceous cyst to resolve itself may not be the best option; for example, sometimes they can become inflamed and uncomfortable. In such a case, a person may wish to have it removed rather than waiting it out. Also, sebaceous cysts may grow very large in some cases and begin to interfere with a person's lifestyle; this may call for removal as well. Large sebaceous cysts can be removed through a surgical procedure that is performed in a doctor's office. Smaller cysts may not require surgery; steroid injections and antibiotic treatments may be used instead.

Sebaceous cyst removal can typically be performed in a doctor's office.
Sebaceous cyst removal can typically be performed in a doctor's office.

Though most sebaceous cysts do not develop into anything different, it is possible for them to form abscesses. When this occurs, the patient may experience pain in the area, and removal may be necessary. When a sebaceous cyst is surgically removed, it is important that the doctor is sure that the entire sac is taken out. By doing so, he or she can prevent the symptoms from recurring.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments

anon110359

Can an insect bite cause a cyst?

calabama71

@boathugger: I had a sebaceous cyst on my jaw line a couple of years ago. My sister is a nurse and she told me to apply moist heat to it. You can either use a moist heating pad or take a washcloth and wet it with extremely hot water. Place it over the cyst for about 15 minutes two times a day.

The way that it works is that the heat helps to dissolve the fluid that has built up inside the cyst. My cyst was gone in about ten days.

BoatHugger

What are some sebaceous cyst home treatments?

chrisinbama

@dega2010: Our skin is made up of a very thin layer of cells that the body continuously sheds. Most cysts form when the surface cells move deeper into the skin and multiply. They occur more often in areas where our larger glands (sebaceous glands) are. These areas include the face, neck, upper back and groin.

The epidermal cells actually form the walls of the cyst and start secreting keratin (protein). The keratin is part of the thick yellow substance that sometimes drain from these cysts.

Occasionally, the treatment of sebaceous cysts doesn't work. Then, you need to speak to your doctor about sebaceous cyst removal.

dega2010

Very good article. What exactly causes a sebaceous cyst to form?

anon40321

Very helpful and easy to understand. Regular everyday words and not medical words. I like that. Thanks

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    • Sebaceous cysts often have a foul odor.
      Sebaceous cysts often have a foul odor.
    • A sebaceous cyst.
      A sebaceous cyst.
    • While sebaceous cysts can occur on any part of the body, they tend to show up on the face and neck.
      While sebaceous cysts can occur on any part of the body, they tend to show up on the face and neck.
    • Sebaceous cyst removal can typically be performed in a doctor's office.
      Sebaceous cyst removal can typically be performed in a doctor's office.
    • Removing a sample of the tissue and examining it under a microscope is the best way to ensure a cyst isn't cancerous.
      Removing a sample of the tissue and examining it under a microscope is the best way to ensure a cyst isn't cancerous.