What is a Ganglion Cyst?
A ganglion cyst is a smooth, fluid-filled lump beneath the skin. They develop along the tendons or around the joints, and – though they can appear anywhere on the body – they typically grow on the hands, wrists, feet and ankles. A ganglion cyst can grow up to 2.5 cm in diameter, though some are so small that they are hardly visible.
Ganglion cysts are benign and non-cancerous, so they should not cause any serious concern. Ultimately, they are harmless, and it is common to have a ganglion cyst and not experience any symptoms (other than the bump on your skin, of course). In some cases, however, ganglion cysts can restrict the range of movement in a nearby joint.
Moreover, if the cyst grows near a nerve and begins to press on it, patients may experience feelings of discomfort, tenderness, tingling, numbness, muscle weakness, or pain. In these cases, it is best to have the cyst removed.
Finally, ganglion cysts can be unsightly or embarrassing if they grow in a very visible place, and – if lumps and bumps of any kind are affecting your confidence – it is always best to consider having them removed.
What Causes a Ganglion Cyst to Form?
Joints and tendons are coated in a sticky, lubricating substance called synovial fluid. When a joint or tendon is moved out of place (by an injury, for example, or an underlying health condition, such as arthritis), the synovial fluid can leak. The leaked fluid pools together beneath the skin, forming a ganglion cyst.
It is for this reason that people who have suffered an injury to a joint or tendon in the past are more likely to develop a ganglion cyst. Similarly, patients with osteoarthritis are at higher risk.
How is a Ganglion Cyst Diagnosed?
If you notice an unusual lump or bump on your skin, you should always have it examined by a medical professional to ensure that it is non-cancerous.
A doctor can usually diagnose a ganglion cyst simply by looking at it. In some cases, however, a scan may be required to determine whether the lump is a cyst.
How is a Ganglion Cyst Removed?
Some ganglion cysts disappear on their own, but this usually takes a few years to occur, and it does not always happen. Some cysts may shrink with time, but not disappear entirely.
Treating a ganglion cyst will ensure that the lump is removed immediately. Ganglion cyst removal treatments can be either surgical or non-surgical, depending on a patient’s needs and preferences.
Ganglion Cyst Removal Procedures:
There are two surgical methods for the removal of a ganglion cyst:
During open surgery, your surgeon will draw a line around the lump to mark the area where the incisions need to be made. A local or a general anaesthetic will be used during the procedure, depending on the area in which the cyst has grown and the individual patient’s wishes.
Once the anaesthetic has been administered, the surgeon will use a scalpel to cut the ganglion cyst out of the skin. This will create a hole, which will be stitched closed to allow the skin to heal. The stitches will be removed after approximately 10 to 14 days have passed.
Arthroscopy is a type of keyhole surgery which works by inserting a tiny camera, called an arthroscope, into the affected joint. Your surgeon will then make tiny incisions around the cyst, through which small instruments can be inserted to cut out the lump. The arthroscope acts as a guide during this process, allowing the surgeon to inspect and operate on the cyst.
Like open surgery, arthroscopic surgery can be performed under either local or general anaesthetic, depending on the patient’s needs.
Non Surgical Removal (Aspiration):
Aspiration is a non-surgical alternative ganglion cyst removal treatment, which works by draining the cyst’s internal fluid. It is a straightforward, non-invasive and painless procedure, so anaesthetic is not required.
During the procedure, a doctor will use a needle to create a very small hole in the ganglion cyst. The synovial fluid will begin to leak from the sac, causing the cyst to shrink. A syringe will then be used to ensure that the cyst has been emptied as much as possible.
Finally, a plaster will be placed over the treated area to allow the skin to heal. This can be removed after roughly six hours have passed.
Patients should note that aspiration will not necessarily remove a ganglion cyst permanently. The procedure will reduce the size of the lump, but the cyst can grow back over time. In fact, approximately 50% of the ganglion cysts that are treated via aspiration return at a later date.
Nevertheless, aspiration is an effective treatment for patients who do not want to have surgery. Furthermore, when a ganglion cyst causes discomfort or pain by pressing on a nearby nerve, aspiration can provide relief, as patients will feel a significant reduction in these symptoms when the cyst is smaller and empty of fluid.
What are the Risks of Ganglion Cyst Removal?
Whether surgical or non-surgical, ganglion cyst removal is an exceptionally safe, straightforward and minor procedure. Consequently, the treatments discussed above come with few risks, and side-effects are very rare.
Nevertheless, all forms of surgery have the potential to cause infection in the treated area, and so surgical methods for removing ganglion cysts come with this very small risk. Similarly, it is also possible for surgery to prompt an allergic reaction in some patients, though this is very rare.
A small number of patients experience some stiffness, soreness or a loss of strength in the wrist after ganglion cyst removal surgery, though these side-effects are uncommon.
If you are concerned about the potential complications of ganglion cyst removal, you can discuss your worries with one of our consultants prior to the treatment. They will conduct some pre-assessment tests to ensure that the risks discussed above are as low as possible.
How Long Will it Take to Recover from a Ganglion Cyst Removal Treatment?
When a ganglion cyst is treated non-surgically via aspiration, patients can return to their normal activities immediately, and no aftercare is required.
However, when a ganglion cyst is removed via surgery, patients should arrange for someone to collect them from the clinic after the procedure. In the days following the surgery, patients must keep the wound and its dressings as clean as possible in order to avoid infection. Staying hydrated, eating healthily, and resting as much as possible during this time will ensure that the treated area heals quickly.
It is common for patients to experience some swelling in the treated area in the first 1 to 4 days after the surgery. This can be reduced by gently applying an ice pack to the swelling areas. If the cyst was removed from the wrist, then elevating your hand above your heart can also help to reduce swelling.
It is possible for patients to experience some localised pain in the first few days after the treatment, and, in these cases, over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, can be taken to relieve these symptoms.
If the ganglion cyst was removed from the patient’s hand or wrist, the surgeon may recommend finger exercises (such as wriggling, bending and stretching the fingers) in the days following the procedure. These exercises should not cause any pain or discomfort, and you should not stretch your fingers beyond that which is comfortable.
Common Ganglion Cyst Removal questions
Is It Worth Removing A Ganglion Cyst?
Ganglion cysts are benign and harmless, so there is not necessarily a need to remove them. However, it is certainly worth treating a cyst if it is causing pain, or if it is inhibiting the movement of a joint. It is also worth removing a ganglion cyst if it is causing embarrassment and affecting your self-confidence.
If you are unsure whether to have a ganglion cyst removed, it could be worth arranging a consultation with one of our specialists. They will discuss your concerns with you and offer advice on potential treatments.
How Long Does It Take To Recover From A Ganglion Cyst Removal Treatment?
When a ganglion cyst is treated non-surgically, it takes roughly six hours to recover fully from the procedure (this is when the plaster can be removed).
When a cyst is removed via surgery, patients typically feel better within one to five days, though a complete recovery usually takes roughly two to eight weeks.
Can I Remove My Ganglion Cyst At Home?
No, ganglion cysts should never be removed at home, as this is likely to lead to infection.
What Happens If A Ganglion Cyst Is Left Untreated?
As ganglion cysts are non-cancerous, it is not dangerous to leave them untreated. Some cysts fade and vanish on their own with the passage of time, though this can take a few years, and some ganglion cysts never disappear.
When Should I Worry About A Ganglion Cyst?
If you are certain that the lump on your skin is a ganglion cyst, then there is no cause to worry (if you are uncertain, then it is essential that you have the bump assessed by a doctor).
If your ganglion cyst begins to cause pain in the area in which it is growing, or if it becomes difficult to move your hand or foot, then it is best to have it removed for your own comfort, though there is no cause to worry about your health.
Can A Ganglion Cyst Become Cancerous?
No, ganglion cysts cannot become cancerous. Cancerous lumps are rigid and firm, whilst cysts are pliable and packed with fluid.
How Long Does It Take To Remove A Ganglion Cyst Surgically?
It takes approximately 20 to 45 minutes to remove a ganglion cyst via surgery.
Is Ganglion Cyst Removal Surgery Painful?
The surgery can be uncomfortable, but it will not be painful, as either a local or a general anaesthetic is used during the procedure.
What Happens If A Ganglion Cyst Bursts Internally?
When a ganglion cyst ruptures, the fluid is no longer contained within the sac and spreads out beneath the skin. The area will be red and swollen for a few days, and you will probably feel some soreness or pain (painkillers can be used to treat this). After four to five days, the bloodstream will absorb the liquid, and the area will heal.
How Do I Know If My Ganglion Cyst Popped?
When a ganglion cyst pops, you will feel some soreness or pain, and the area in which it grew will appear red and swollen.