How To Tell If You Have A Cyst Or A Tumor

If you have an unidentified growth somewhere on your body, it's difficult not to worry. A lump could be totally benign, or it could be malignant, or maybe something that causes issues but isn't deadly. No matter what it is, though, you know it's not normal, and trying to figure out how to deal with it can be stressful. It's not surprising that you instantly wonder if this unexpected growth is a cyst or a tumor, which are two types of lumps that can grow in your body (via Healthline). 


These two types of lumps are different, however. A cyst is usually a small, fluid-filled sac that appears on your body. Sometimes it can contain air or other material, though, and it's usually benign, but can sometimes be cancerous. Meanwhile, a tumor is any area with abnormal tissues growing or swelling (via Mayo Clinic). A tumor can be either benign or malignant. Both types of issues form anywhere on your skin, tissues, bones, or organs. How can you tell the difference?

Here's why your doctor needs to examine unidentified lumps

There's some good news if you have an unidentified lump that you can see. According to Healthline, sometimes doctors can tell the difference between a cyst and a tumor simply by looking at them. Often tumors are fast growing and firm, whereas cysts are tender and move around under your skin. Other characteristics of cysts include possible white, yellow, or green discharge, tenderness, redness, swelling, and a possible blackhead in the center. If your doctor doesn't know which it is, she might order something like an ultrasound, CT scan, MRI scan, or mammogram to make a determination.


If you have a lump that grows quickly, oozes, changes color, itches, or bursts, you should contact your doctor to get it looked at quickly. Otherwise, you can probably wait until your next doctor's visit to discuss the growth with your physician. Mayo Clinic reported that the best way to tell whether a tumor or a cyst with solid material in it is malignant or benign is to have a biopsy, which might involve taking a small sample of the tissue or removing the entire lump and having it tested. Once the results come back, your doctor can work to develop a plan to treat your lump, depending on what it is.