Cysts (cont.)

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What are cyst symptoms and signs?

Sometimes you can feel a cyst yourself when you feel an abnormal "lump." For example, cysts of the skin or tissues beneath the skin are usually noticeable. Cysts in the mammary glands (breasts) also may be palpable (meaning that you can feel them when you examine the area with your fingers). Cysts of internal organs such as the kidneys, ovaries, or liver may not produce any symptoms or may not be detected by the affected individual.

How do physicians diagnose cysts?

Cysts often are first discovered by imaging studies (X-ray, ultrasound, CAT scan, and MRI). Cysts may or may not produce symptoms, depending upon their size and location. Cysts that are large enough to displace or compress normal tissues may cause symptoms related to their size and to the disruption of normal tissues.

Picture of a skin cyst
This is a picture of a skin cyst, one of hundreds of types of cysts.

What are the different types of cysts?

There are hundreds of different types of cysts that can arise in the body. Here are some of the more well-known types of cysts:

  • Cysts in the breast which are part of benign proliferative ("fibrocystic") disease (fibrocystic breast disease)
  • Ovarian cysts, including dermoid cysts, a specific type of ovarian tumor that often contains cysts and other tissues
  • Cysts within the thyroid gland
  • Baker cyst (popliteal) behind the knee
  • Ganglion cysts of the joints and tendons
  • Cysts of the glands within the eyelid, termed chalazions
  • Sebaceous cysts of the small glands in the skin
  • Epidermal cysts of the skin, sometimes known as epidermal inclusion cysts, that are frequently found on the face, scalp, neck, and trunk
  • Bartholin cysts, enlargement of small glands near the vaginal opening
  • Pineal cysts, cysts within the pineal gland of the brain
  • Pancreatic cysts are collections of fluid within the pancreas. Some pancreatic cysts are true cysts that are lined by cells that secrete fluid. Other pancreatic cysts are pseudocysts and do not contain specialized lining cells.
  • Polycystic kidney disease, an inherited condition in which the kidneys contain multiple cysts
  • Tarlov cysts, also known as meningeal or perineural cysts, are located in the sacrum, the fused bones at the base of the spine.
  • Infections and inflammation, such as abscesses and boils on the skin, can also be causes of cysts.
  • Arachnoid cysts are located between the brain or spinal cord and the arachnoid membrane, one of the three membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.
  • Pilonidal cysts are located near the cleft of the buttocks.

The majority of cysts are benign, but some may produce symptoms due to their size and/or location. Rarely, cysts can be associated with malignant tumors (cancers) or serious infections. If you're concerned about any abnormal swelling or lump, talk to your doctor. He or she can recommend appropriate diagnostic tests to determine whether a cyst is present and the cause of the cyst.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/24/2013

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