Cyst vs. Tumor: What’s the Difference?

cyst vs tumor
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Have you or a loved one recently been diagnosed with a lump? Are you wondering what type of health issue you’re dealing with?

Cysts vs tumors have very different characteristics and need different treatment plans. Because of this distinction, understanding the difference can help you learn about your diagnosis and make the right decision for your future health.

This uncertainty can breed a lot of anxiety, and we understand. Below, we’ll examine two very separate, health conditions that could form a raised bump on the surface of your skin.

To learn more about the differences between cyst vs tumor, keep reading.

What Is a Cyst?

The word cyst comes from the Greek word kystis, meaning sac. A cyst is a closed sac-like structure or pockets of fluid that are surrounded by a thin, fibrous wall. They are most often filled with a white, waxy substance known as sebum.

Cysts can range in size from a few millimeters and are hardly noticeable to several centimeters and uncomfortable. They can form anywhere in the body, including the skin, organs, and bones.

Most cysts are harmless and do not cause any symptoms. And many cysts are benign, meaning they are not cancerous, and they often go away on their own without treatment. Yet, some cysts can become cancerous, so it is important to have any new cysts checked out by a doctor.

Different Types of Cysts

There are different types of cysts and each has its own characteristics. These types of cysts include sebaceous cysts, ovarian cysts, thyroid cysts, and kidney cysts.

Sebaceous Cysts

A sebaceous cyst is a small, bump-like growth that forms on the skin. These growths are not cancerous and do not cause any harm. But, in rare cases, sebaceous cysts can become infected and can even turn into a type of skin cancer called sebaceous gland carcinoma.

Ovarian Cysts

There are two types of ovarian cysts: functional and neoplastic. Functional ovarian cysts are common and occur because of changes in the menstrual cycle. They are benign and resolved on their own.

Neoplastic ovarian cysts are less common and can be benign or malignant.

Thyroid Cysts

There are two types of thyroid cysts: simple and complex. Simple cysts are benign and filled with fluid. Complex cysts can contain both fluid and solid components and may be cancerous.

Doctors can find thyroid cysts during a routine physical examination or thyroid scan.

Kidney Cysts

A kidney cyst is a fluid-filled sac that grows on the kidney. Complex kidney cysts may come with other medical conditions, such as polycystic kidney disease, and may need treatment.

What Is a Tumor?

A tumor, also known as a neoplasm, is a mass or lump, that forms when cells in the body divide and grow uncontrollably. They are more likely to develop in certain organs, such as the lungs, breasts, or brain.

Tumors can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Benign tumors are not as dangerous as malignant tumors because they do not spread to other parts of the body. Yet, they can still cause problems if they grow too large and compress surrounding tissues.

The Von Hippel-Lindau disease for example is a condition associated with tumor. Von Hippel-Lindau disease (VHL) is a rare, inherited cancer syndrome. People with VHL are at an increased risk for developing certain types of tumors, including clear cell renal cell carcinoma (RCC), pheochromocytoma, and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.

If you think there is a Von Hippel-Lindau disease recurrence, you must consider seeing back your doctor.

Cyst vs Tumor: The Difference

Both cysts and tumors are abnormal growths that can occur in any part of the body. But there are also some important differences between the two in symptoms, causes, treatments, and diagnosis.


Symptoms of a cyst may include a lump or bump on the skin that is usually not painful. Also, they are typically limited to the area where the cyst appears and may include pain, tenderness, and redness.

Symptoms of a tumor can vary depending on the location and type of tumor, but may include pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the affected body part. A brain tumor may cause headaches, nausea, and vomiting, while a lung tumor may cause coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain. In general, tumors are more likely to cause symptoms than cysts.


There are many potential causes for both cysts and tumors. Cysts can arise from various conditions, including infections or inflammation, while others are blockages in the body’s ducts or glands. But in some cases, the cause is unknown.

Yet, certain lifestyle choices or underlying health conditions can increase the risk. For example, smoking or exposure to certain chemicals can increase the risk of developing lung cancer. Obesity, meanwhile, is a risk factor for several types of cancer, as well as benign ovarian cysts.


There are many differences between cysts and tumors, but the most important difference is how they can treat them. Cyst treatment is minor and may involve draining the fluid or removing the sac. Cysts can often be treated with simple home remedies, but tumors need more aggressive treatment.

Also, tumor treatment depends on the type of tumor and whether it is cancerous. Doctors can remove benign tumors through surgery, while cancerous tumors may need radiation or chemotherapy.


There are several key ways to distinguish a tumor from a cyst. Tumors can be irregular, while cysts are typically round. Tumors are often hard or firm to the touch, while cysts are soft.

Doctors can diagnose cysts based on physical examination, but you will need a biopsy to confirm a diagnosis of a tumor. They can also diagnose both with imaging tests, like MRIs and CT scans.

Knowing the Difference Between Cyst vs Tumor is Important

If you have any concerns about a growth or lump on your body, it is important to know the difference between a cyst and a tumor. Cysts are not cancerous and are typically filled with fluid.

Tumors can be cancerous or noncancerous and are typically solid. If you are unsure about the nature of a growth, it is best to consult a doctor.

Did you find this information helpful? If so, check out some of our other health guides.

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Alice Christina, a seasoned health writer, combines her passion for wellness with a strong foundation in evidence-based research. She crafts insightful content that empowers readers to make informed health decisions. Alice's expertise shines through her concise and reliable health articles.