September 27th, 2010
12:52 PM ET

How can I make a cyst go away?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Monday, it's Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician.

Question asked by Kate of Georgia: I have had a bump on the back of my hand for six months that my doctor says is a ganglion cyst. It's starting to hurt. What can I do to make it go away?

Expert answer: Thanks for your question. Ganglion cysts are common, mostly occurring in women between the ages of 20 and 40, but they can affect males and females of any age. They often occur on the hands or wrists but may show up in the areas of other joints or tendon sheaths, such as the feet, elbows and knees. These cysts are harmless, fluid-filled collections typically the size of a pea or small marble, but can be even bigger. Unlike tumors or other growths, they transilluminate, or glow, when a light is shined directly on the bump.

Ganglion cysts may come and go on their own, without any intervention. Usually no treatment is needed unless they cause pain or interfere with one's activities. Since these cysts tend to get larger with more use of the nearby bone or joint, it may be helpful to wear a wrist brace or elastic bandage to limit the movement of your hand or wrist. Over-the-counter pain relievers may also help.

Accidental trauma to the area can cause the cyst to burst and flatten. However, home treatment such as slamming the cyst with a heavy book or poking it with a needle is not recommended since these actions could cause an injury or infection.

Instead, a doctor skilled in treating ganglion cysts may use a needle to aspirate the fluid under sterile conditions. Sometimes a steroid or other medication may be injected into the cyst space. Surgical removal for ganglion cysts may also be an option. Unfortunately, the cysts sometimes come back even after aspiration or surgery.

Be sure to talk to your own doctor about the best treatment for your situation. Good luck!

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.