Epidermal inclusion cyst

Epidermal inclusion cysts, also known as a sebaceous cysts, are common cutaneous lesions that represent proliferation of squamous epithelium within a confined space in the dermis or subdermis.

The term sebaceous cyst implies that the lesion originates in the sebaceous glands, which is not correct and as such the term epidermal inclusion cyst is preferred.

Clinical presentation

Epidermal cysts are either found incidentally or present as a firm non-tender lump. If they rupture a local inflammatory response to the necrotic debris released can mimic infection. Although they can be found anywhere, they are typically located on the scalp, face, neck, trunk, and back 1. Rarely they can be seen within bones representing an intraosseous epidermoid cyst (case 11) 2.

Rarely epidermal cysts can undergo malignant degeneration with squamous cell carcinoma 1.


The are thought to occur as a result of 1-2:

  • traumatic/surgical implantation
  • occlusion of the pilosebaceous unit
  • congenital rests of cells
  • human papillomavirus type 57 or 60 infections implicated palmoplantar epidermoid cysts 1

They are closely related to cholesteatomas, and should not be confused with epidermoid cysts of the CNS.

Radiographic features

On all modalities they appear as well circumscribed masses arising in or just deep to the skin.


Well circumscribed predominantly hypoechoic mass. If it is small, it can mimic a cyst. Larger masses can be a little heterogeneous.


The density of epidermal inclusion cysts is similar to that of water.


Imaging on MRI is similar to that of CNS epidermoid cysts or cholesteatomas, namely the content of the cyst is similar to CFS/water.

  • T1: low/intermediate
  • T2: high
  • DWI
  • T1 C+ (Gd)
    • no enhancement centrally
    • may have thin peripheral enhancement


  • superimposed infection
  • rupture
  • concurrent occurrence of tumours within them, e.g. melanoma (very rare) 4

Treatment and prognosis

They are benign and generally do not require treatment. If infected they may require incision and drainage. If they continue to grow they may require excision.

Differential diagnosis

General imaging differential considerations include

See also

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