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Cyst vs Tumor


Cysts and tumors are two distinct types of abnormal growths that can occur in the body, but they differ in their nature, causes, and potential implications. While cysts are typically benign sac-like structures filled with fluid or semi-solid material, tumors involve the uncontrolled growth and division of cells. Understanding the differences between these two conditions is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

In this comprehensive article, we worked on explaining you the details of cysts and tumors, exploring their characteristics, causes, diagnostic methods, and treatment approaches, providing valuable insights to aid in the effective management of these conditions.

Comparison Table

NatureFluid-filledAbnormal growth
OriginVarious causesGenetic mutations
GrowthSlow, containedUncontrolled, invasive
CharacteristicsOften benignBenign/malignant
SymptomsOften mildVaried symptoms
DiagnosisImaging, aspirationImaging, biopsy
TreatmentObservation, surgerySurgery, chemo, radiation
PrognosisGenerally goodVaried with type/stage/treatment
RecurrenceMay recur if not fully removedMay recur if not eradicated
Impact on HealthUsually minimalCan significantly impact health
PrevalenceCommon occurrenceVaried based on type/location

What is a Cyst?

A cyst is an abnormal, sac-like structure that can form in various parts of the body. It is essentially a closed pocket or pouch filled with fluid, air, or semi-solid material. Cysts can develop from different types of cells and tissues and its content can vary depending on the underlying cause and location.

Cysts vary in size, from small pea-sized sacs to large masses containing liters of fluid. They may appear as swellings or lumps under the skin or within internal organs. While some cysts are painless, others may cause discomfort or tenderness, depending on their size and location. As per an article published on, cysts of 5-10 cm or greater are more likely for surgical removal than the smaller ones.


There are various types of cysts that we have mentioned below:

  • Ovarian Cyst: Fluid-filled sacs that develop in or on the ovaries. Most are functional and resolve on their own, but some may be pathological and require treatment or surgical removal, especially if large or associated with conditions like endometriosis or ovarian cancer.
  • Pilonidal Cyst: A cyst that forms near the cleft of the buttocks, often containing hair and debris. It can cause pain, swelling, and drainage, and is thought to be caused by ingrown hairs or trauma to the area.
  • Bartholin Cyst: These cysts develop in the Bartholin glands near the vaginal opening, which produce lubrication. They can become infected, leading to pain, swelling, and discomfort during intercourse or sitting.
  • Epidermoid Cyst: According to a literature review, the word sebaceous cyst is old, and the latest term used is epidermoid cyst. These are slow-growing, benign lump that can develop anywhere on the skin, often on the face, neck, or trunk. Epidermoid cysts are filled with a cheese-like material made up of wet skin cells and keratin. Such cysts are usually harmless but may require surgical removal if inflamed or cause discomfort.
  • Baker’s Cyst: A sac filled with fluid behind the knee, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness, especially during activity.
  • Meibomian Cyst: Develops in eyelid oil glands, leading to redness, swelling, and discomfort around the eyes. Sensitivity to light and blurred vision may occur.
  • Ganglion Cyst: Small, fluid-filled lumps near joints, tendons or ligaments in the wrists, hands, or feet. They may cause pain or discomfort, particularly if they press on nerves or tendons.
  • Pilar Cyst: Also known as a trichilemmal cyst, it is a firm lump that forms from hair follicle cells on the scalp. Filled with a thick, yellow substance, it can become inflamed or infected.

What is a Tumor?

The National Care Institute at defines a tumor as a mass of tissue that abnormally forms during the growth of body cells and keeps on dividing more than they typically should.

Tumors can develop from any of the trillions of cells in the body. When the natural process of apoptosis breaks down, cells grow abnormally and multiply uncontrollably, leading to the formation of tumors. Tumors can vary in size, from tiny masses to large growths causing significant discomfort or impairment, depending on their location. Some tumors may not cause any symptoms, while others can produce a range of signs and symptoms based on their type and location.

Tumor development is a complex process involving genetic alterations and changes in cellular signaling pathways. Ongoing research into molecular markers provides insights into specific types of tumors, such as oral cancer. For instance, a recent study highlighted the significance of molecular markers related to increased cell proliferation in oral cancer progression. While numerous markers have been identified, only a few have shown impact on prognosis.

Multiple treatment options are available but it is first important to know the type of tumor diagnosed.


Malignant Tumors

  • Carcinomas: These are cancers that originate from any type of epithelial cells, which are cells that line the surfaces of organs and tissues. They are the most common type of cancer and can affect various organs like the lungs, breast, colon, and prostate.
  • Gliomas: These tumors arise from glial cells, which are supporting cells in the brain and spinal cord. Glioblastoma multiforme is an aggressive type of glioma with a poor prognosis.
  • Leukemias: These are cancers of the blood-forming tissues, leading to an overproduction of abnormal white blood cells.
  • Lymphomas: These cancers affect the lymphatic system, including lymph nodes and lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell).
  • Osteosarcoma: This is a type of bone cancer that primarily affects children and young adults.

Benign Tumors

  • Adenomas: These arise from glandular epithelial cells. They can occur in various organs such as the colon, thyroid, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands.
  • Fibroids and Fibromas: Fibroids are benign tumors that develop in the muscle tissue of the uterus, while fibromas are benign tumors composed of fibrous or connective tissue in the body.
  • Hemangiomas: These benign tumors are made up of blood vessels. They can occur on the skin or internal organs and are most commonly seen in infants.
  • Lipomas: These abnormal cell growth are composed of fat cells. Lipomas are usually found just below the skin and are typically harmless.

Premalignant Tumors

  • Actinic keratosis: Rough, scaly growths on the skin caused by long-term sun exposure. If left untreated, these precancerous lesions can develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.
  • Cervical dysplasia: A condition where abnormal cells are present in the cervix. It is considered precancerous because, if not monitored and treated, it may progress to cervical cancer over time.
  • Colon polyps: Growths that protrude from the inner lining of the colon or rectum. While most of them are benign, some have the potential to become malignant and develop into colorectal cancer.
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): Also known as intraductal carcinoma, DCIS is a non-invasive form of breast cancer where abnormal cells are confined within the milk ducts of the breast. DCIS is considered a precursor to invasive breast cancer if left untreated.
  • Barrett’s esophagus: A condition in which the normal squamous cells lining the esophagus are replaced by intestinal-type cells. This change in cell type increases the risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma, a type of esophageal cancer.
DIFFERENCE Between CYST and tumor

Cysts vs Tumors – Causes


Below are the prominent reasons of cyst formation in a body:

  • Underlying medical conditions (e.g., polycystic ovary syndrome)
  • Abnormal shedding of dead skin cells, leading to their buildup
  • Irritation or injury to a hair follicle
  • Clogged duct within a hair follicle
  • Degeneration of connective joint tissue
  • Ovulation (e.g., ovarian cysts)
  • Blockage or defect in ducts or glands (e.g., breast cysts, sebaceous cysts)
  • Genetic factors
  • Infectious agents (e.g., cystic lesions caused by bacteria or parasites)


Here are some reasons why a body undergoes abnormal division of cells, leading to tumors:

  • Genetic mutations that disrupt cell growth and division
  • Exposure to radiation or certain chemicals
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Immune system deficiencies
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Viruses (e.g., human papillomavirus, hepatitis B/C viruses)
  • Unhealthy lifestyle factors (e.g., smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise)
  • Aging and accumulated genetic damage over time
  • Inherited genetic diseases and disorders that increase cancer risk
  • Environmental exposure to carcinogens or toxins

Cyst vs Tumor – Growth

Cysts are typically slow-growing, well-defined, and have a membrane or capsule surrounding them. They are generally filled with fluid, semi-solid, or gaseous material. Cysts can grow to a certain size, but they tend to maintain their shape and remain contained within their capsule. They are encapsulated, so they do not spread or invade surrounding tissues, although they can cause discomfort due to their size or location.

On the other hand, tumors exhibit uncontrolled and abnormal growth patterns. They can grow rapidly, and their growth is not limited by a surrounding membrane or capsule. The American Cancer Society mentions that benign tumors grow locally and remain confined to their original site, but malignant (cancerous) tumors can invade and destroy surrounding tissues.

Malignant tumors have the ability to metastasize, meaning that cancerous cells can break away from the primary tumor and spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system, forming new tumors (metastases) in different organs or tissues.

Cysts vs Tumors – Diagnosis

For cysts, the diagnostic process typically begins with a physical examination to detect any lumps or swellings. Imaging techniques like ultrasound, CT scans, or MRI are then used to visualize the cyst, assess its size, location, and characteristics. A study published in 2022 suggested that ultrasound is a reliable imaging technique for diagnosing a type of cyst called Baker’s cyst. Due to its affordability, ease of use, and availability, ultrasound may be preferred for screening and monitoring various types of cysts.

Cysts that appear smooth and well-defined on imaging are generally considered benign. However, if solid components or irregular features are present, further investigation may be needed. In some cases, a fine-needle aspiration may be performed to extract a fluid sample from the cyst for analysis under a microscope. A biopsy of the cyst wall may also be recommended in certain situations.


For tumors, the diagnosis often starts with a physical examination to evaluate any lumps or masses. Imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, MRI, PET scans, or ultrasound are commonly used to detect and characterize the tumor and its size. The gold standard for tumor diagnosis is a biopsy, where a tissue sample is obtained through fine-needle aspiration, core needle biopsy, or surgical biopsy, depending on the tumor’s location and accessibility. However, as per a recent study, liquid biopsies are more effective in diagnosing tumor than tissue biopsies.

Additional tests like blood tests for tumor markers, endoscopic procedures, or genetic testing may be performed in certain cases to aid in the diagnosis and treatment planning.

Cyst vs Tumor – Treatment

Treatment decisions for cysts and tumors depend on factors like symptoms, malignancy risk, size, location, and impact on health. By undergoing the best treatments from below, patients can alleviate cancer symptoms.


Many cysts do not necessitate immediate treatment and can be observed over time, especially if they are small, asymptomatic, and not causing any complications.

If a cyst is causing discomfort or is cosmetically bothersome, drainage may be performed. This involves inserting a needle into the cyst to remove fluid or tissue, relieving pressure, and reducing the size of the cyst.

Larger cysts may require surgical removal, as practically employed by doctors of Sichuan Science City Hospital while performing a cyst removal surgery using laparoendoscopic single-site. This procedure involves excising the entire cyst, including its capsule, to prevent recurrence.


Benign Tumors

Benign tumors may be monitored over time through periodic imaging tests, especially if they are small, stable, and not causing symptoms.

If a benign tumor grows larger, causes symptoms, or poses a risk of complications, surgical removal may be recommended. This procedure involves removing the tumor and, in some cases, surrounding tissues to prevent recurrence.

Malignant Tumors

Surgical removal of malignant tumors is often the primary treatment modality, especially if the tumor is localized and operable. The goal is to remove as much of the tumor as possible while preserving surrounding healthy tissue.

Depending on the type, stage, and causes of cancer, therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or hormone therapy may be recommended before or after surgery. These treatments aim to destroy remaining cancer cells, shrink tumors, or prevent recurrence.

For advanced or metastatic cancers that cannot be cured, palliative care is focused.

End Note

Cysts and tumors are abnormal growths, but they differ in important ways. This article explained those differences clearly. Cysts are typically harmless sacs filled with fluid or other material, while tumors involve uncontrolled cell growth that can spread to other body parts. Understanding when a lump might be a cyst or tumor, and getting the right diagnosis and treatment, is vital for your health.

With the knowledge from this article, you’re now better prepared to have an informed conversation with your doctor about any concerning lumps or growths. Don’t ignore potential warning signs – stay proactive about your well-being by promptly discussing any new lumps with your healthcare provider.

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