There are a number of skin conditions that cause lumps to appear on the surface or just below the skin.
A lipoma is a slow-growing, fatty lump that’s most often situated between your skin and the underlying muscle layer. A lipoma, which feels doughy and usually isn’t tender, moves readily with slight finger pressure. Lipomas are usually detected in middle age. Some people have more than one lipoma.
A lipoma isn’t cancer and usually is harmless. Treatment generally isn’t necessary, but if the lipoma bothers you, is painful or is growing, you may want to have it removed.
Lipomas can occur anywhere in the body. They are typically:
- Situated just under the skin. They commonly occur in the neck, shoulders, back, abdomen, arms and thighs.
- Soft and doughy to the touch. They also move easily with slight finger pressure.
- Generally small. Lipomas are typically less than 2 inches (5 centimeters) in diameter, but they can grow.
- Sometimes painful. Lipomas can be painful if they grow and press on nearby nerves or if they contain many blood vessels.
When to See a Doctor
A lipoma is rarely a serious medical condition. But if you notice a lump or swelling anywhere on your body, have it checked by your doctor.
The cause of lipomas isn’t fully understood. They tend to run in families, so genetic factors likely play a role in their development.
Several factors may increase your risk of developing a lipoma, including:
- Being between 40 and 60 years old. Although lipomas can occur at any age, they’re most common in this age group.
- Genetics. Lipomas tend to run in families.
A cyst is a sac-like pocket of membranous tissue that contains fluid, air, or other substances. Cysts can grow almost anywhere in your body or under your skin.
There are many different types of cysts. Most cysts are benign, or non cancerous.
Whether a cyst needs treatment depends on a number of factors, including:
- the type of cyst
- the location of the cyst
- if the cyst is causing pain or discomfort
- whether the cyst is infected. In rare cases, epidermoid cysts can be caused by an inherited condition called Gardner’s syndrome.
- These are small, benign bumps filled with keratin protein. If you have trauma around a hair follicle within the skin, an epidermoid cyst may occur. If part of the top layer of your skin, called the epidermis, grows deeper instead of moving outward toward the surface to eventually be shed off, an epidermoid cyst will have a chance to form.
These are small, benign bumps filled with keratin protein. If you have trauma around a hair follicle within the skin, an epidermoid cyst may occur. If part of the top layer of your skin, called the epidermis, grows deeper instead of moving outward toward the surface to eventually be shed off, an epidermoid cyst will have a chance to form.
In rare cases, epidermoid cysts can be caused by an inherited condition called Gardner’s syndrome.
Sebaceous cysts often form within sebaceous glands. These glands are part of the skin and hair follicles. Ruptured or blocked sebaceous glands can lead to sebaceous cysts. Sebaceous glands make oil for your skin and hair. Sebaceous cysts fill with sebum and are less common than epidermoid cysts.
These benign cysts usually form near the joint areas of your wrist or hand. However, they can also develop in your feet or ankle areas. The reason they form isn’t known.
Ganglion cysts tend to occur along a tendon sheath near a joint. They’re more common in women than in men.
Ovarian cysts often form when the follicle that normally releases an egg doesn’t open. This causes fluid to build up and form a cyst.
Another common type of ovarian cyst occurs after the follicle releases the egg and improperly recloses and collects fluid. Ovarian cysts occur most often in women of menstrual age. They’re usually found during pelvic exams.
Ovarian cysts are associated with an increased risk of cancer when they occur after menopause.
Benign cysts can develop in your breasts when fluid collects near your breast glands. They commonly occur in women in their 30s and 40s. They can cause pain or tenderness in the affected area.
Chalazia are benign cysts that occur on your eyelids when the oil gland duct is blocked. These cysts can cause tenderness, blurred vision, and painful swelling. If they get too big, they can cause vision problems.
These cysts form near the top, middle part of the buttocks. They’re usually filled with skin debris, body oils, hair, and other matter.
Pilonidal cysts occur more often in men than in women. They can develop when loose hairs become embedded in your skin. According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic infections in these cysts might increase your risk of a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Know the signs for different types of skin cancer to treat it early.
A Baker’s cyst, also known as a popliteal cyst, is a fluid-filled cyst that forms at the back of the knee. These cysts are usually due to problems with the knee, like knee injury or arthritis. Mobility can be limited and painful with a Baker’s cyst.
Physical therapy, fluid draining, and medication can all be used to help treat a Baker’s cyst.
Cystic acne results from a combination of bacteria, oil, and dead skin clogging the pores. It’s the most severe type of acne in young adults, but usually improves with age. Cystic acne can look like large, pus-filled boils on the skin. It can also be painful to the touch.
If you believe you may have cystic acne, your dermatologist can prescribe medications to help treat it.
Ingrown Hair Cyst
An ingrown hair cyst forms when a hair grows into the skin and a cyst forms beneath it. These cysts are more common in people who shave or wax to remove hair.
Most of the time, professional medical care isn’t needed to treat ingrown hair cysts. However, see a healthcare professional if you suspect it’s infected.
Pilar cysts are flesh-colored, benign lumps that form on the surface of the skin. Since they’re benign, they’re typically not cancerous. However, they can grow to a size that can be uncomfortable.
Removal is typically not necessary, but they can be removed for cosmetic preference.
A mucous cyst is a fluid-filled lump that forms on the lip or around the mouth when the salivary glands become plugged with mucous. The most common causes of mucous cysts include:
- lip or cheek biting
- lip piercings
- rupture of the salivary gland
- poor dental hygiene
Often, mucous cysts will go away on their own. However, if you have recurring or frequent mucous cysts, medical treatment may be required.
Branchial Cleft Cyst
Branchial cleft cysts are a type of birth defect that forms a lump on an infant’s neck or below the collarbone. This cyst can look like a large skin tag.
Healthcare providers usually recommend surgical removal to prevent future infection.
When to See a Doctor
Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider if your cyst becomes very painful or red. This could be a sign of a rupture or an infection.
A healthcare provider should check your cyst even if it isn’t causing any pain or other problems. Abnormal growths can be a sign of cancer. Your healthcare provider may want to remove a tissue sample for testing.
Skin tags are painless, noncancerous growths on the skin. They’re connected to the skin by a small, thin stalk called a peduncle. Skin tags are common in both men and women, especially after age 50. They can appear anywhere on your body, though they’re commonly found in places where your skin folds such as the:
- area under your breasts
When to See a Doctor
Other skin conditions such as warts and moles can resemble skin tags. Since some moles may be cancerous, it’s best to have your skin tags examined by a doctor. Your dermatologist or family doctor will be able to diagnose skin tags. They’ll likely do this through a visual exam. If they have any doubt about the diagnosis, they may also perform a biopsy.
You may be at greater risk of getting skin tags if you:
- are overweight
- are pregnant
- have family members who have skin tags
- have insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes
- have HPV
- Skin tags don’t become skin cancer. Irritation may occur if they rub with clothing, jewelry, or other skin.
Shave with caution around skin tags. Shaving off a skin tag won’t cause permanent damage, though it may cause pain and prolonged bleeding.
Warts are raised bumps on your skin caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Warts have plagued humans for thousands of years — they have been discovered on 3,000-year-old mummies and were mentioned by Shakespeare. Although warts generally aren’t dangerous, they are ugly, potentially embarrassing, and contagious. They can also be painful.
There are five major types of warts. Each type appears on a different part of the body and has a distinct appearance.
Common warts usually grow on your fingers and toes, but can appear elsewhere. They have a rough, grainy appearance and a rounded top. Common warts are grayer than the surrounding skin.
Plantar warts grow on the soles of the feet. Unlike other warts, plantar warts grow into your skin, not out of it. You can tell if you have a plantar wart if you notice what appears to be a small hole in the bottom of your foot that is surrounded by hardened skin. Plantar warts can make walking uncomfortable.
Flat warts usually grow on the face, thighs, or arms. They are small and not immediately noticeable. Flat warts have a flat top, as if they’ve been scraped. They can be pink, brownish, or slightly yellow.
Filiform warts grow around your mouth or nose and sometimes on your neck or under your chin. They are small and shaped like a tiny flap or tag of skin. Filiform warts are the same color as your skin.
Periungual warts grow under and around the toenails and fingernails. They can be painful and affect nail growth.
When to See a Doctor
You should see your doctor if:
- you have warts on your face or another sensitive part of your body (e.g., genitals, mouth, nostrils)
- you notice bleeding or signs of infection, such as pus or scabbing, around a wart
- the wart is painful
- the color of the wart changes
- you have warts and diabetes or an immune deficiency, such as HIV/AIDS.