She Needs A-cyst-ance


This woman, now 44, first developed subcutaneous “bumps” on her neck, arms, and chest at puberty. They were initially diagnosed as acne, but treatment for that condition failed to help.

Later, she consulted a dermatologist, who suggested they were cysts and actually removed one to send for pathologic examination. The report indicated “a type of cyst,” the name of which the patient has long since forgotten.

Over the years, she has developed additional lesions, which are not only unsightly but also painful at times. Although the patient is not in distress, she is upset.

The patient has type IV skin and is of African-American ancestry. Further history-taking reveals that she is reasonably healthy, with no other skin problems. She does report that the presenting complaint “runs in the family,” on her father’s side.

She Needs A-cyst-ance

The lesions—subcutaneous, doughy, cystic-feeling papules and nodules—are widely distributed on the patient’s anterior neck, arms, and chest. They range in size from 5 mm to 3 cm. None are inflamed, and no puncta can be seen on their surfaces. Palpation provokes no reaction of pain or discomfort.

With the patient’s permission, she is anesthetized and one lesion is removed. The sample clearly establishes a cystic nature, although the contents are neither cheesy nor grumous as would be seen with an ordinary epidermal cyst. Rather, they are an oily, odorless, thick liquid surrounded by an organized cyst wall. This is removed as well and sent for pathologic examination.

What’s the diagnosis?

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