Q: Should sebaceous cysts be removed? How are they different from lipomas?
A: These lumps just beneath the skin, properly called epidermal cysts, are common and harmless. The most important thing is to check with a doctor to properly identify them.
Typically on the head, neck, or torso, the cysts are firm, round, and movable, and grow slowly, sometimes to an inch or more in diameter. They’re usually caused by injury to a hair follicle or other damage to skin. They are filled with a greasy material made of fat and keratin.
If a cyst becomes infected or if you are bothered by it for any other reason, it can be surgically removed. This is a simple procedure, but usually requires stitches. If it is simply drained, it will probably grow back.
Lipomas can look like cysts, but are benign fatty tumors. They seem to run in families and also grow slowly; they can occur inside the body as well. A doctor will often be able to tell you whether you have a cyst or lipoma by its look and feel, though you may need an ultrasound or other tests for a definite diagnosis. Lipomas don’t need to be removed unless they are unsightly or uncomfortable.