Difference between a Cyst and a Tumor

June 15, 2017 by Editorial Team

Popular terms used in the medical field, “cyst” and “tumor” are often used interchangeably. However, they are far from being alike. This article provides valuable information on the differences between the two.

Definitions

Cyst vs Tumor
Ovarian cysts

A cyst is an enclosed sac-like structure formed by a cluster of abnormal cells. Distinct in behavior and appearance, the cells that form the outer shell of a cyst are not typically found in the surrounding tissues. A cyst can affect different body parts, and it comes in a variety of sizes. While some are microscopic, others are large enough to displace internal organs.

Encapsulated by a cyst wall, a cyst is not a normal part of a tissue. It has its own membrane and is separated from the other tissues at the site. It usually contains liquid, gas, or semisolid substances. However, if the sac is filled with a collection of pus, it’s not a cyst; it’s an abscess.

tumor
Uterine fibroids (benign uterine tumors)

A tumor, on the other hand, is an abnormal mass of tissue filled with either liquid or solid substances. A tumor can form in different types of tissues, and it exists in three forms: benign (non-cancerous tumor), pre-malignant (pre-cancerous tumor), and malignant (cancerous tumor).

Since it can affect different body parts, tumors are named according to their type and location. Also, the diagnostic procedures and treatment options used for removing a tumor depends on tumor type, size, and site.

Cyst vs Tumor

So what’s the difference between a cyst and a tumor? Even though these medical terms are used interchangeably, they are completely different entities.

Firstly, a cyst is an enclosed sac-like structure formed by a cluster of abnormal cells. It has a distinct membrane and is separated from its surrounding tissues by a cyst wall. Meanwhile, a tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue that forms in different parts of the body.

Since it is made up of tissues, a tumor is typically firmer than a cyst. A cyst, by contrast, is soft and tender since it is filled with gas, liquid, or semi-solid substances.

The formation of cysts and tumors are attributed to different predisposing factors. Clogged glands or an obstruction in the normal flow of fluids inside the body can increase a person’s likelihood for developing a cyst. The formation of tumors, on the other hand, is not directly linked to a single cause. However, factors like genetics and frequent exposure to toxic chemicals can lead to the development of tumors.

While both cysts and tumors are linked with cancer, most cysts are benign in nature. However, certain types of cancer may cause the frequent formation of cysts inside the body. Tumors, on the other hand, can be benign, pre-malignant, or malignant. Pre-malignant tumors are the types that can potentially lead to cancer if left untreated, while malignant tumors are cancerous tumors that can spread throughout the body.

Comparison Chart

CystTumor
An enclosed sac-like structure formed by a cluster of abnormal cellsAn abnormal mass of tissue that forms in different parts of the body
Soft and tenderFirm

Predisposing factor:

  • Clogged glands
  • Obstruction in the normal flow of fluids inside the body

Predisposing factor:

  • Genetics
  • Frequent exposure to toxic chemicals

Mostly benign

Can be benign, pre-malignant, or malignant