GentleCure Blog

Cysts vs. Skin Cancer

Cysts are normally benign, but they may derive from deeper issues (including certain types of cancer) or become uncomfortable as they grow. Tumors may also be benign, but if a malignant tumor progresses into skin cancer, it should always be treated at the earliest opportunity. When cysts form close to the surface of the skin, questions can arise as to whether you’re dealing with a (sebaceous or non-sebaceous) cyst or skin cancer. Although biopsy is almost always required to distinguish cysts vs. skin cancer in practice, there are a couple of common signs that can help you get a better idea of what you’re dealing with.

Tumors vs. Benign Cysts vs. Cancerous Cysts on Skin

If you’re concerned about a new growth on your skin, scheduling an appointment with a doctor is always a better idea than trying to diagnose the issue at home. Although a physical inspection and a variety of imaging techniques can help to indicate what kind of cyst or tumor has arisen, most examinations will eventually lead to a biopsy.

If you want to be fully informed for your appointment, it’s a good idea to keep the following points in mind:

  • Cysts are normally benign, and they generally have different causes than cancerous tumors, but cancerous cysts on the skin are not unheard of. Still, these two types of growth should usually be considered as separate conditions.
  • Skin tumors tend to be firmer than cysts, which often move or change shape with pressure. If your growth does not move beneath your skin, it is more likely to be a tumor than a cyst.
  • A small pore is often visible on the end of a cyst, but this is not necessarily the case with tumors. 
  • Smooth cysts without solid portions are usually benign. Uneven cysts with solid portions may be either benign or malignant; closer inspection will be needed. Once more, a very firm lump is more likely to be a tumor than a cyst, but more tests will be needed to determine if it is benign or malignant. Lipomas and warts are common benign tumors that may or may not resemble cysts.
  • A thicker material may drain from some cysts, but it is unwise and unsafe to try and remove them at home. (Surgery is the only effective means for removing cysts.) Additionally, an outright rupture (with or without bleeding) may be a sign that the growth is not a cyst.
  • Basal cell skin cancer, a common skin cancer, may sometimes present as a small bump. Sebaceous gland carcinoma, itself very rare, also presents as a small lump and may be mistaken for a cyst. However, if a lump near or beneath your skin turns out to be cancerous, you might also be dealing with another type of cancer, and not skin cancer proper.
  • Additionally, some cysts that appear near the surface of the skin are the result of disturbances produced by non-skin cancers, and these cysts aren’t necessarily related to skin cancer at all.

When attempting to distinguish between cysts and skin cancer, your doctor will ask you about the lump’s origins, duration, changes, and associated pain. If a lump bleeds, changes color, grows quickly, or causes pain, it’s a good idea to have it examined at the earliest opportunity.

Are Sebaceous Cysts Ever Cancerous?

As noted above, cancerous cysts on skin are rare but not non-existent. Cysts may be cancerous, or they may indicate the presence of cancer. Although your skin ailment will most likely turn out to be one or the other (cancer or a cyst), the question can be a little more complex in some cases: for example when deciding if you’re dealing with a sebaceous cyst or skin cancer. 

Are sebaceous cysts ever cancerous? Your doctor may recommend closer investigation, especially if any of the following apply to you:

  • Your sebaceous cyst has signs of infection or inflammation
  • Your sebaceous cyst is larger than five centimeters in diameter
  • Your sebaceous cyst recurs quickly after removal

Other kinds of cysts may or may not be linked to cancer; your doctor will make a determination on a case-by-case basis.

Consider Image-Guided for Common Skin Cancer Treatment

If your new skin growth turns out to be a common skin cancer, you should know that you have options. If you’re interested in treating your cancer without the risk of the surgical scarring that comes with some practices, learn more about Image-Guided Superficial Radiotherapy (Image-Guided /SRT) today. When you’re ready, ask your doctor if it’s the right course for you.