Cyst vs. Tumor: Understanding the Differences and Similarities

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

Cyst vs. TumorWhen we get a bump of a dubious nature, our first thought is often that it is some form of cancer. Decades of television and movie scenes have almost trained us to expect the worst of any undiagnosed lump.

And yes, occasionally these growths may result in a cancerous tumor. But very frequently, the bumps are something else. Like a cyst, for example. Cysts are also bumps that seemingly come out of nowhere and appear on your body. This begs the question, what’s the difference between cyst and tumor? Are you worse off with one than the other? We’re going to explore the differences and similarities, and hopefully, resolve any questions you may have about cyst vs. tumor.

The Difference between Cysts and Tumors

Cysts and tumors. Both can form lumps that are visible just beneath the surface of the skin and those that lie deep within the body. So, is there a difference? Should a tumor worry you more than a cyst or vice versa? Well, let’s break it down a little bit, shall we?

Both cysts and tumors are growths that are either internal or externally visible. After that point, we start to see the differences between the two. Cysts are essentially closed sacs made up of cells that are similar to their surroundings. The sac can be filled with air, liquid of various sorts, and solid matter like hair and even teeth in some cases. Tumors, on the other hand, are masses made up of tissue that can have liquid in them (the average tumor is made up mostly of tissue).

1. Cysts, Tumors, and Cancer

What about cancer? Most cysts are noncancerous. They can become infected and inflamed, but on a whole, they are rarely cancerous. Tumors, which typically cause the most anxiety among patients, can be either cancerous or benign. Truth be told, tumors are often non-malignant and relatively harmless, but they can turn cancerous, which is what brings out the biggest difference between cysts and tumors.

A cyst will not spread. It can grow larger, become infected, and can generally be a nuisance, but a cyst cannot move into other systems within the body. An ovarian cyst, for example, will not spread cysts to the liver or the lungs. A tumor that is or becomes cancerous can go on to metastasize in other parts of the body. Ovarian cancer, for instance, can spread from the ovaries to the liver and the lungs.

One last point that has to be clarified is the connection between cysts and cancer. While cysts themselves are not cancerous, almost all types of cancers can produce cysts. But, it’s important to remember that the cysts are still cysts: sacs filled with air or liquid, and not tumors, which are masses of tissue. Cysts that are caused by cancer also cannot spread.

2. Cyst and Tumor Similarities

Beyond the cyst and tumor differences, there are a few similarities between the two. First, there are several different types of both cysts and tumors. Tumors and cysts are also found in both men and women. Furthermore, cysts and tumors can behave similarly. Both tumors and cysts can be painless, or can be situated in such a way that they are causing pain.

There is one other big difference and that’s in the way that cysts and tumors can be treated.

3. Cyst vs. Tumor Treatment

Treating a cyst and treating a tumor can be two very different things. The basic treatment for a cyst, more often than not, is to drain the cyst (as a lot of cysts are liquid filled). Or in severe cases, doctors may choose to cut the cyst out.

Now, while tumors can also be surgically removed, the best way to treat a tumor is to treat the underlying cause. Therefore, if the cause of the tumor is cancer, the cancer will be treated—most often with chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of the two—and (hopefully) the tumor shrinks and eventually goes away. If the tumor is interfering with the body’s functions, and is in a place where surgeons can safely operate, a tumor can be also be cut out and removed.

While both can be excised, cysts tend not to return as surgery is normally the final say in the matter. Unfortunately, with cancer-induced tumors, this may not be the case. Removing a tumor may end the issue for good, or the tumor and cancer may return, sometimes more aggressive than it was the first time. Some cysts may even go away naturally, with little-to-no treatment. Sometimes they will rupture or the body will reabsorb the growth. Tumors do not just go away on their own, even if they are noncancerous.

4. Cyst vs. Tumor Diagnosis

To the touch, tumors and cysts are often different as cysts will usually feel soft and malleable. Tumors tend to feel harder, almost like someone has inserted a physical object in you.

Both cysts and tumors tend to be picked up by the same imaging tests, such as a CT scan, but due to the potential of what may be causing the tumor, blood tests, MRIs and a biopsy (a sample of material cut from the tumor itself) may also be necessary to help determine what caused the tumor to grow.

Be on the Lookout!

Hopefully, this article has cleared up some of the misconceptions about what the various lumps on your body may or may not be. The key with both cysts and tumors, if they do appear, is to keep an eye on them and get a handle on them quickly. Both cysts and tumors can grow, regardless of whether the tumor is cancerous. The growth of either is not a good thing, and can bring with it a number of complications. However, if you can spot it early on, it will be that much easier to treat either a tumor or a cyst before it gets out of hand and causes pain, injury or damage to you and your body.

Related Article:

Dermoid Cyst Treatment Tips: Causes, Symptoms, and Natural Remedies

Arachnoid Cyst Symptoms in Adults: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

“Difference between Tumor and Cyst,” Difference;, last accessed June 30, 2017.
Olivia, “Difference Between Cyst and Tumor,” Difference; March 13, 2011,, last accessed June 30, 2017.
Moynihan, T., “What’s the difference between a tumor and a cyst? Could a cyst be cancerous?” Mayo Clinic, July 28, 2016;, last accessed June 30, 2017.
Pietrangelo, A., “Cysts and ovarian cancer,” Healthline, Medically reviewed by Monica Bien, PA-C on November 7, 2016;, last accessed June 20, 2017.