What Is a Benign Cyst?

Nicole Long

A benign cyst is a non-cancerous growth or lump. They can form anywhere on the body and are often filled with fluid or semi-solid material. Benign cysts occur for a variety of reasons and are most commonly treated through medication or surgical removal of the cyst.

Ovarian cysts are a common type of benign cyst.
Ovarian cysts are a common type of benign cyst.

Cysts in general are a closed sac. They range in size from very small, which may not require surgery, to large sacs containing a copious amount of fluid or other material. Cysts may be painless or may be accompanied by pain and other symptoms depending on the location. Most cysts turn out to be benign, though some can be malignant.

Benign cysts can be found anywhere in the body.
Benign cysts can be found anywhere in the body.

Benign cysts can be found anywhere in the body. Common locations for a benign cyst include the skin and internal organs, such as the ovaries, kidneys, and brain. Cysts are known by a wide variety of names based on their location, such as ganglion cyst, glial cyst, acne cyst, and ovarian cyst.

The cause of ganglion cysts is not known, but they are more likely to affect those with osteoarthritis or previously injured tendons or joints.
The cause of ganglion cysts is not known, but they are more likely to affect those with osteoarthritis or previously injured tendons or joints.

There are a few common causes of benign cysts. In skin glands, a build-up of oils or dead skin cells may cause a blockage of the skin ducts resulting in the formation of a fluid filled sac. Other causes include cells defects, parasites, and injury to the site.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe in those with a benign cyst.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe in those with a benign cyst.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe in those with a benign cyst. Some may not experience any symptoms at all depending on the size and location of the cyst. Pain, noticeable swelling, and location specific symptoms may develop in those with a cyst. For instance, cysts forming in the ear may cause discomfort and hearing loss.

Benign cysts may need to be drained or removed.
Benign cysts may need to be drained or removed.

Medication and surgery to remove or drain the cyst are the most common treatment approaches used by doctors. Antibiotics may be prescribed to help fight or prevent infection. Surgery to drain or remove the cyst altogether may be recommended to prevent complications. Some physicians may recommend keeping an eye on small benign cysts and removing them if they become larger or produce unwanted symptoms.

While benign cysts are typically not dangerous, all require an appropriate medical exam. If left untreated, a benign cyst can lead to infection. Once infected, a cyst can begin to fill with bacteria and transform into an abscess, a sac filled with pus. Complications can arise if the abscess bursts open. These include a risk for blood poisoning and peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdominal wall.

Ovarian cysts may be detected via ultrasound.
Ovarian cysts may be detected via ultrasound.

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