How to Tell the Difference between Cyst and Tumor

How to Tell the Difference between Cyst and Tumor

t is common to associate the terms "tumor" and "cyst" with cancer, yet these concepts are quite different and neither of them necessarily leads to a case of cancer. Knowing these distinctions is important so as not to be alarmed and remain calm, and know how to act to ensure our well-being. That's why oneHOWTO would like to explain the difference between a cyst and a tumor.

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  1. Tumor
  2. Cysts
  3. What to do if you suspect you have a malignant or dangerous condition


When there is an exaggerated and unusual growth of cells in our body which results in an abnormal reproduction of the cells, the tissues in these zones grow and swell. This abnormal increase in tissue is known as a tumor, a condition frequently associated with cancer, although it does not necessarily lead to this condition.

There are two types of tumors:

  • Benign tumor: they are considered as such because the cells which have grown abnormally remain grouped in the same place, without extending to the rest of the body nor invading other cells. This type of tumor can normally be removed through surgery and generally does not appear afterwards.
  • Malignant tumor: this type of formation may leave its original location and invade other tissues, causing metastasis. Only malignant tumors are cancerous.


When one hears "cyst" it is often associated with a malignant condition, however there are many different kinds and the majority are benign. A cyst is a pocket-like formation surrounded by a membrane that contains a liquid or altered material. This bag forms abnormally in the body, but it does not represent danger most of the time. They can be dangerous only when they damage other tissues or organs.

The formation of the cysts is very varied, and they can disappear on their own without any treatment, require drainage or other simple removal procedures. Surgery is considered if their location compromises our health.

You should also know that cysts can be cutaneous or subcutaneous i.e; can form internally or externally, depending on the area, as they can form in the skin's tissue, bones or most organs. Take a look at the different and most common cysts that form in the human body:

  • Breast cyst: It is a fluid lump that is found in breasts and are formed in mammary glands, mostly in women aged between 20 and 50. The growth will have a fluid-like feel to it.
  • Ovarian cyst: These do not cause any further symptoms and you won't be able to notice them through palpation. Many women find out they have an ovarian cyst when they are trying to get pregnant and are having problems conceiving. A woman may also feel pelvic pain and the need to urinate.
  • Pilondal cyst: This cyst will appear subcutaneously in the sacrococcygeal area, which is an area in the back that is close tot he inter-gluteal cleft and can be totally asymptomatic, though it can cause fever, sore joints and discomfort. You will also notice a bump in the area with a small hole.
  • Bartholin cyst: This cyst appears on the Bartholin glands, which are found in the vaginal opening and are the glands in charge of lubrication. Common symptoms include swelling in the vaginal area, pain during sexual activities and pus infections.
  • Sebaceous cyst: A sebaceous cyst occurs when a sweat gland or follicle is blocked, and can appear in any part of your body, most commonly in the scalp, neck or upper body. You will notice a lump that is usually more than five centimeters in diameter and will feel soft to touch.

The vast majority of cysts are not cancerous, however it is important to clarify that certain types of cancers can promote the production of cysts, so it is important to always visit a specialist if a cyst is suspected.

What to do if you suspect you have a malignant or dangerous condition

Not all cysts and tumors are synonymous of a serious condition, it is important not to be alarmed until you know the diagnosis accurately.

In many areas of our body, it is possible to palpate the presence of a lump, such as in the breasts, testicles, or throat among others. At the time we detect an outgrowth that was not there previously, it is impossible to determine by ourselves whether it is a cyst, tumor or another condition generating inflammation, which is why it is very important to visit a doctor as soon as possible.

Despite the fear that this may entail, it is fundamental to have the opinion of a professional to deal with the problem adequately as soon as possible. It is also important to carry out annual check-ups.

If you have had an ultrasound or CT scan, the difference will appear that a tumor will appear in an ultrasound as a well-defined capsule that contains a subtle mass whereas a cyst will appear as a rounded mass with a thin wall and may show fluid within it. If you have had an ultrasound, it's best you take the results to your doctor as he/she is the only person who will be able to read them effectively.

To know if a tumor or cyst is benign or not, the best way to know is getting a biopsy.

How to Tell the Difference between Cyst and Tumor - What to do if you suspect you have a malignant or dangerous condition

This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Tell the Difference between Cyst and Tumor, we recommend you visit our Diseases & secondary effects category.

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1 comment
Janis Krieger
I am not sure what my dog has yet, I have only been told she doesn't have lymhphoma and her lymph nodes are not affected, a fine needle aspirate was done on her twice. She has a large golf ball size mass in her lower neck area, moveable, but not very soft.
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How to Tell the Difference between Cyst and Tumor