Many people have heard of ganglion cysts but know little about them. The sudden appearance of one of these growths can cause a major worry. Understanding where this type of cyst commonly forms, basic facts about it, and treatment options available relieves many patient concerns.
Ganglion Cyst Overview
Most patients are surprised to learn that the growth called a ganglion cyst is actually a tumor. The good news is that 95 percent of these lumps are benign, according to Medscape.
A ganglion is the most common lump or mass found in a hand. Generally harmless, each is filled with fluid and can disappear, appear, and change size very quickly. Although some ganglion cysts require no treatment, a physician should evaluate one that has an unacceptable appearance, interferes with function, or is painful.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons describes this tumor as a growth that arises from a joint, much like a balloon appears on a stalk. It develops in ligaments, joint linings, and tendon sheaths – all types of tissue that surround joints.
Factors that trigger a ganglion’s formation remain a mystery. These cysts most frequently occur in individuals between 15 and 50 and more often in women than in men. Experts have linked cysts that form at the end joint of a finger to arthritis in the joint and as common to females between 40 and 70.
The primary symptom of this type of cyst is a visible lump. However, some remain very small and hidden underneath the skin. While many ganglions are not painful, others exert pressure on nerves running through the affected joint. Pain, tingling, and muscle weakness typically result.
According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, the spots where a ganglion cyst is likely to develop include:
- On top of the wrist
- The palm side of a wrist
- The base of a finger on the palm side
- The top of the end joint of a finger
The size of ganglions varies greatly. Decreased wrist activity often results in shrinkage. Patients concerned about having this type of growth might want to take advantage of a free hand screening.
X-rays are useful in diagnosing ganglions. When a free hand screening suggests a positive diagnosis, treatment often starts conservatively. The hand surgeon continues to observe the ganglion or advises resting the limb in a splint. Many cysts disappear on their own.
When the ganglion continues to bother the patient, one alternative is aspirating it using a needle. This removes fluid and decompresses the cyst. However, there are some locations in the hand or wrist that are not amenable to aspiration due to the delicate structures underneath such as arteries.
Our hand surgeons can remove a ganglion cyst on a finger or a hand in the office setting using local anesthesia. Those on the wrist require outpatient surgery in an ambulatory surgical clinic or a hospital setting to remove them.