A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled cyst that usually forms at the wrist or elbow joint and arises from the tissue lining the tendons and joints. The cyst is painless and benign and contains a clear, jelly like fluid. It may increase in size slowly. Though the cyst can occur at any age, it is most common during the 30's and in old age. It is also more common in women than in men.
How is it caused?
The exact cause of the cysts is not known. The tissues near a joint produce a fluid to keep the joint lubricated. When these tissues undergo wear and tear, the fluid seeps out and accumulates close to the joint or at the end of the tendon. This may give rise to the cyst which may be soft or hard depending on the amount of fluid in the cyst cavity.
What are the symptoms?
Though the lump is filled with fluid, it can sometimes feel hard enough to be mistaken for a growth in the bone. It is usually detected by the patient herself when a bump is noticed under the skin. Though ganglion cysts are usually painless, they may limit movement at the joint.
How is it diagnosed?
A ganglion cyst is easy to diagnose but may sometimes be confused with a tumour. This can be easily ruled out since a cyst is translucent and movable while a tumour is opaque and often hard.
What is the treatment?
Since these cysts are not cancerous and not painful, sometimes they may be left alone. However, if they are cosmetically unappealing or restrict movements, then they may have to be removed. The usual methods of treatment are:
Aspiration – The fluid is sucked out of the cyst with the help of an aspiration needle. The local area is anaesthetised and a needle is inserted into the cyst. The fluid is then aspirated. To prevent swelling of the tissue again, a steroid or anti-inflammatory drug may be injected into the cavity.
Surgical removal – The best way to permanently remove a ganglion cyst is by an operation. This is a minor procedure and can be performed under local anaesthesia. A cut is made and the cyst and all the fluid along with some of the surroundings tissues is removed. The hand may have to be put in a splint for 7 to 10 days. There are usually no complications unless the cyst is located near an important blood vessel or nerve.