What’s That Lump? Identifying Cysts, Lipomas and More   

What’s That Lump? Identifying Cysts, Lipomas and More

cyst on the wrist
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Robin Ashinoff, M.D.

No one wants to discover a lump on their body. Even though most lumps are harmless, they’re not especially attractive—and sometimes they signal that something serious is at work, such as cancer.

That’s one reason it’s smart to see your doctor if you’ve recently discovered a lump.

“The presence of a lump doesn’t mean you’re sick. In fact, most often lumps are completely harmless,” says dermatologist, Robin Ashinoff, M.D. “Still, it’s often the right move to check with a dermatologist or primary care doctor to make sure there’s nothing to worry about.”

Here’s a quick guide to different types of lumps and what you should know about them:


Most forms of cysts are soft, pliable and noncancerous. Epidermoid cysts are the most common form, often appearing on the face, neck and torso, and sometimes the genitals. They range from quite small to multiple inches in width. Men are twice as likely as women to develop them. Epidermoid cysts don’t become cancerous but some other rarer types may.


Another form of lump called a lipoma looks and acts similar. While they appear in many of the same spots as epidermoid cysts, they also appear on arms and legs. About 1 in 100 people develops a lipoma, according to nonprofit cancer research group Cancer Research UK. Lipomas are not cancerous and are usually harmless.

Soft-tissue Sarcoma:

The cancerous tumor called soft-tissue sarcoma can look similar to a cyst or lipoma and appear in similar places. “It can be difficult to distinguish between a sarcoma and cyst or lipoma, so if a lesion is growing, it needs to be fully evaluated by a professional,” says Dr. Ashinoff.

Breast Lumps:

Because of the threat of breast cancer, one of the scariest places to discover a lump is on the breast. Even then, however, lumps are often non-cancerous. Fibroadenomas, for example, are firm to the touch and can grow to be several inches wide—yet they aren’t cancerous. Benign cysts can also form in the breast, where they often are easy to feel and can be as large as a few inches wide. Likewise, changes to fibrous tissue can appear as a lump on the breast. Women who detect a breast lump should see a doctor even if they suspect the lump is benign. An examination and ultrasound can reveal whether a cyst may be cancerous.

“If you feel something, you don’t want to take any chances,” says Dr. Ashinoff. “See your doctor right away if you discover a lump or any other change to your breasts. That way, doctors can act quickly if intervention is needed.”

Next Steps & Resources:

  • Meet our source: Robin Ashinoff, M.D.
  • To make an appointment with Dr. Ashinoff or a dermatologist near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
  • Schedule a cancer screening near you

    The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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