Lumps Versus Bump on the Skin

ABC7’s The More in the Morning team spoke with Dr. Michael K. Kim, Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon, to talk about the differences between lumps and bumps, how to spot tumors and what else you may need to look out for.

During a routine grooming session brushing your hair, shaving or simply washing in the shower, your hand glides over a bump you never noticed before. Your concern grows. What is this lump? It is a cyst? Is it a lipoma? Malignant or benign? Before fearing the worst, it is best to understand the lumps or bumps that the largest organ in your body, i.e. the skin, can exhibit.

As mentioned, the skin is the largest organ in your body, outward protector from both large as well as microscopic invaders, second only to the liver in detoxification, as well as the major harvester of Vitamin D, converted from UV light. In many of these roles, the skin communicates between the inner and outer world of the human body, highlighting disrupted pathways and processes that may result in an accumulation of cells where there were none before. That new and often questionable topography to the landscape of your skin can be confusing, as many can look and feel similar, especially in early stages of development. These bumps can include: Pilar cysts, sebaceous cysts, ganglion cysts, lipomas, Parotid tumors, and of course, Metastatic cancerous tumor and masses.


In most cases, a healthcare provider can diagnose a cyst or lipoma by looking at or touching it and examining shape, size, swelling and/or infection. A cyst and lipoma are both generally small and painless but can grow in size. Cysts are usually smaller, filled with fluid, pus, air or other substances, and usually appear on the head and neck. Most common cysts are Sebaceous cysts, usually caused by trapped glandular secretions, Ganglion cysts, caused by a minor injury which collects joint fluid in a sac, or Pilar cysts, usually found on the scalp where keratin has built up in the lining of your hair follicle. Most cysts are benign.

Lipomas, however, are lumps of fatty tissue mostly appearing on the forehead, neck, shoulders, back, chest, abdomen, arms, buttocks and thighs. Although not sure of causation, experts believe genetics, injury or trauma, weight issues or obesity, liver disease, alcohol abuse or glucose intolerance are factors that can cause lipomas. Most lipomas are also found to be benign.

Tumors, another category of lumps and bumps found on the skin and elsewhere on the body, are accumulations of cells that can be either benign or malignant. Malignant tumors are cancerous cells that can cluster anywhere, grow rapidly, and can also spread or metastasize. Malignant skin cancer tumors are only one example and require a more aggressive diagnosis and treatment than just surgical removal. However, most common benign tumors, in addition to Lipomas as mentioned above, include: Fibroids (uterine benign tumors), Adenomas (colon polyps) and Hemangiomas (liver benign tumors).


The standard medical recommendation for treatment of cysts and lipomas is removal whenever possible. Most masses can be removed under local anesthesia, and it is better to remove them when smaller and easier to excise than waiting, should growth occur. Larger cysts and lipomas can complicate surgery depending on their location on the body. If the lump is located on face or neck, is growing, or the patient has a family history of cancer, immediate removal is highly recommended.

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