Lumps and Bumps of the Hands and Wrists

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Many things can cause lumps and bumps on the hands and wrists. They range from noncancerous (benign) cysts to rare cancers of the bone, cartilage, and soft tissue.

In some cases, the masses may be visible and cause symptoms. In others, they may not be felt or noticed at all.

When diagnosing a hand or wrist mass, a doctor will typically explore the most common causes first. These include noncancerous growths, cysts, and tumors.

A physical examination and imaging studies, like an X-ray, may be all that's needed to identify one of these lumps or bumps. In some cases, the mass or a sample of its tissue will be removed and examined under a microscope.

This article will explain what causes lumps and bumps on the hands and wrists.

Common causes of lumps in the hand and wrist

Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

Ganglion Cysts

Ganglion cysts are considered the most likely suspect. They represent the majority of all abnormal hand and wrist growths.

These bumps are caused when the lining of the small joints forms a small pouch and fluids leak into it.

Ganglion cysts can also form pouches in the sheath covering a tendon or knuckle joint. This type is called a mucous cyst.

Giant Cell Tumor of the Tendon Sheath

Giant cell tumor of tendon sheath is not a true tumor. Instead, it is a mass that arises from the sheath or lining of a tendon. It can also arise from the synovium, the soft tissue inside a joint.

Giant cell tumors of the tendon sheath tend to grow slowly. They can often become extremely painful. The problem with these masses is that they are easily removed but often come back.

Inclusion Cysts

Inclusion cysts are noncancerous growths caused by an injury to a hand or finger.

A penetrating wound, such as a deep cut, can push surface cells into the deep layers of the hand or finger.

These cells, considered foreign, are then surrounded by the immune system. They gradually expand in size over time, forming inclusion cysts.

Inclusions cysts often form years after an injury occurs.

Carpal Boss

Carpal boss is the overgrowth of bone on the back of the hand. It's similar in appearance to a bone spur.

Carpal boss is essentially a small area of osteoarthritis occurring at the point where the long hand bones and small wrist bones connect.

While frequently misdiagnosed as a ganglion cyst, a carpal boss is firmer. Unlike a cyst, you cannot move it or feel any "give" when you press on it. 

Enchondroma

Enchondroma is a noncancerous tumor that develops when cartilage grows inside a bone.

An enchondroma can become a problem if and when the tumor weakens the bone. This increases the risk of a pathologic fracture.

Enchondromas are mostly benign and only rarely develop into cancer.

Cancer of the Hands or Wrists

Sometimes cancer develops beneath the skin of the hand or wrist. It's usually due to cancerous cells that have spread (metastasized) from elsewhere in the body, most often the lungs.

The hand and wrist are not common locations for cancers to spread, but it is not impossible.

Cancer seldom begins in the hands or wrists. But there are rare cases where tumors have formed in the bone or cartilage of the hand.

These cancers are called sarcomas. They represent less than 1% of all solid cancerous tumors (malignancies) in adults.

By contrast, more than 20% of all pediatric solid malignant tumors are sarcomas. They mainly develop in soft tissue, such as fat and muscle. But around 10% will occur in the bones of the hands or wrists.

It is not entirely clear what causes a sarcoma. The following are the most likely to play a part in its development:

  • Family history
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • Radiation

Cancers of the hands and wrist are serious problems that often require:

  • Invasive treatment
  • Prolonged care

Summary

Most of the time, masses in the hand and wrist are noncancerous. One common type of benign growth in the hand or wrist is called a ganglion cyst.

While rare, it is possible for a lump or bump in the hand or wrist to be cancerous, however. When this occurs, it's typically because of cancer found elsewhere in the body.

It's important to visit your doctor if you notice a mass or growth beneath your skin. After careful evaluation, they can determine if the growth is cancerous or nothing to worry about.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Ganglion cysts: causes, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment.

  2. OrthoInfo. Giant cell tumor of bone.

  3. American Family Physician. Diagnosing common benign skin tumors.

  4. The Hand Society. Carpal boss: causes and treatment.

  5. OrthoInfo. Enchondroma.

  6. Sur YJ, Kang YK, Bahk WJ, Chang DK, Rhee SK. Metastatic malignant tumour in the hand. J Plast Surg Hand Surg. 2011;45(2):90-5. doi:10.3109/2000656X.2011.556224

  7. Burningham Z, Hashibe M, Spector L, Schiffman JD. The epidemiology of sarcomaClin Sarcoma Res. 2012;2(1):14. doi:10.1186/2045-3329-2-14

Additional Reading
  • Radiology Department, Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, Oxford, United Kingdom, Teh J. Ultrasound of soft tissue masses of the handJ Ultrason. 2012;12(51):381-401. doi:10.15557/JoU.2012.0028