A sebaceous cyst (also known as an epidermoid cyst or wen cyst) is a
benign (non-cancerous) tumor that develops on the skin of the back,
neck, ears, face, or genital area. Normally, the sebaceous glands
that lie just underneath the skin produce sebum (oil) that
lubricates the skin. Sometimes sebum, keratin (fibrous protein), or
other debris may back up in the duct. This accumulation causes an
obstruction and eventually the formation of a dome-shaped cyst.
Embedded hair follicles may also cause an obstruction. Adults and
adolescents commonly develop sebaceous cysts. Risk factors include
trauma to skin and increased hormone production during puberty.
Symptoms may include:
• A firm lump over the skin
• Usually non-tender
• May be white or flesh colored
• Black or white plug at pore opening
• Vary in size (as small as a pimple or as large as a fist)
• Filled with a foul smelling, "cheesy" material (seen if cyst is
• Red, tender, with inflammation (swelling, tenderness, warmth) of
WHAT YOUR DOCTOR CAN DO:
• Diagnose the condition by asking about your symptoms, doing a
physical exam, and sometimes ordering a laboratory culture of the
• Recommend "watchful waiting" - Observe the progress of the
condition for a while since it may resolve itself.
• Surgically drain the cyst with a small incision, remove the cyst
wall, and either close the site with stitches or leave open with a
gauze packing material to allow for drainage.
• Prescribe antibiotics to fight bacterial infections.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
• Apply hot compresses to the cyst several times daily for 15-20
minutes at a time.
• Do not squeeze or attempt to drain cyst at home. This will cause
increased inflammation and damage to the surrounding tissue.
• Take all of the antibiotics until finished.
• Watch for signs of infection (pus, increased pain and
inflammation, and fever)
• Remove packing material as directed by your doctor. (Generally
left in place for 1 week).
• Use over-the-counter remedies such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) to
control fever or ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, or Motrin) to reduce pain
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT:
• Unless the cyst causes discomfort or becomes infected, it
generally does not require medical attention.
• Cysts can be surgically drained and removed on an outpatient basis
in your doctor's office.
• Unless the cyst wall is removed, the cyst may recur.
• Some complications may include infection or rupture of the cyst.
CALL 1061 OR SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL
If you develop a cyst that causes pain or becomes infected.