Sebaceous Cysts: What You Should Know

For the last couple of years, I’ve had a little lump just under the skin on my shoulder. I didn’t think much of it; with all this extra weight I’m carrying, lumps mean cellulite, right? Recently it began rubbing against my bra strap and bothering me, and I noticed it was getting larger. It was well past time to see the doctor.

He took a look and told me it wasn’t cellulite. Cellulite is usually a little squishy, and this lump was hard. It was, he said, a sebaceous cyst, and then he proceeded to tell me what that meant.

Sebum is a milky white substance that our body excretes through our scalp and the skin pores all over our faces, necks, and shoulders. It’s a natural lubricant our body provides. However, when one of the pores gets clogged, the sebum can build up in that spot and cause a cyst. Many of these cysts greatly resemble pimples within the skin and can be squeezed in the same manner, but in cases like mine, the cyst is deep enough that the doctor must make an incision and go in after it, and so that is what we did.

First he deadened the area and then made a small incision, roughly half an inch, over the cyst. Then he used a tiny pair of scissors to snip the surrounding tissues that were holding the cyst in place. The goal was to remove it in one piece without popping it, so he worked slowly and carefully, not pulling on it until all the side tissues were dislodged. Then he lifted it out, snipping the tissue from behind, and did some other stuff I couldn’t see because a) I wasn’t looking and b) it was on my shoulder and out of my range of sight, so even if I wanted to see it, which I didn’t, I couldn’t.

Then he put three stitches in the layers of skin below the surface, and five more on the surface, and I was good to go.

I asked to see the cyst, and it was actually about the size of a nickel, but shaped like a sphere. The doctor said that if we were to open it (which we didn’t) we would see that it was filled with sebum, which would look like mayonnaise.

This all took place about nine days ago, and I get the stitches out on Wednesday. All in all, it wasn’t a bad experience. The procedure took about 45 minutes, was performed in the surgery room right at my doctor’s office, I was only sore for a couple of days (although people keep coming up and patting me on the shoulder; I’ll find a way to get even) and it was fairly simple to diagnose.

The doctor told me that these cysts are quite common, and that you can’t prevent them. Just because I’ve had one doesn’t mean I’ll have another, so they’re not indicative of a chronic condition.

If you have a lump under the surface of your skin, don’t immediately think “cancer;” it just may be that you have a sebaceous cyst. I do recommend, however, that you don’t wait as long to go to the doctor as I did. Have it checked right away so you can know for sure.

Related Blogs:

Do a Skin Assessment

Instinct vs. Medicine

Update: My Ordeal and What the Doctor Said