An epidermal cyst is a type of slow-growing lump underneath the skin. This cyst contains soft, cheese-like skin contents. These usually appear on the face, neck, chest, upper back, genitals, or behind the ears. Similar cysts called pilar cysts often occur on the scalp.
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Acne and skin injuries increase your risk of developing an epidermal cyst.
If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to a cyst. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. In most cases, the diagnosis can be made by looking at it. You may be referred to a dermatologist. This is a doctor who specializes in skin disorders.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
If you are diagnosed with an epidermal cyst, follow your doctor's instructions.
There is no way to prevent an epidermal cyst. If any of the cyst wall is left behind after drainage, the cyst may come back. If this happens, your doctor may decide to remove the cyst using surgery.
American Academy of Dermatology
American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Dermatology Association
Cysts–epidermoid and pilar. The British Association of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.bad.org.uk/site/805/default.aspx . Accessed January 2, 2013.
Cysts. DermNet NZ website. Available at: http://dermnetnz.org/lesions/cysts.html . Updated January 13, 2012. Accessed January 2, 2013.
Freedberg IM, Eisen AZ. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine . Vol 1. 5th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Health Professions Division; 1999: 884-885.
Zuber TJ. Minimal excision technique for epidermal (sebaceous) cysts. American Family Physician . 2002;65:1409-1412.
Last reviewed March 2013 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 5/11/2013