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Neck lump

Definition

A neck lump is any lump, bump, or swelling in the neck.

Alternative Names

Lump in the neck

Considerations

There are many causes of lumps in the neck. The most frequently seen lumps or swellings are enlarged lymph nodes. These can be caused by bacterial or viral infections, cancer (malignancy), or other rare causes.

Enlargement of the salivary glands under the jaw may be caused by infection or cancer. Lumps in the muscles of the neck -- almost always in the front of the neck -- are caused by injury or torticollis. Lumps in the skin or just below the skin are often caused by cysts, including sebaceous cysts.

The thyroid gland may also produce a lump, multiple lumps, or swelling in the neck as a result of thyroid disease or cancer. Most cancers of the thyroid gland are extremely slow-growing and often curable by surgery, even if they have been present for several years.

All neck lumps in children and adults should be checked immediately. In children, most neck lumps are caused by treatable infections. However, treatment should start quickly to prevent complications or the spread of infection.

As adults age, the likelihood of the lump being a cancer increases, particularly for people who smoke or drink significant amounts of alcohol. Fortunately, most lumps in adults are not cancers.

Common Causes

SWOLLEN LYMPH NODES IN THE NECK

  • Bacterial
    • Atypical mycobacterium (a type of bacteria)
    • Bacterial pharyngitis
    • Cat scratch disease
    • Peritonsillar abscess
    • Strep throat
    • Tonsillitis
    • Tuberculosis
  • Cancer
    • Hodgkin's disease
    • Leukemia
    • Mouth cancer
    • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
    • Other cancer
  • Thyroid
    • Cancer of the thyroid
    • Goiter
    • Graves' disease
  • Viral
    • AIDS
    • Herpes infections
    • HIV disease
    • Infectious mononucleosis
    • Rubella (German measles)
    • Viral pharyngitis
  • Other
    • Allergic reactions
    • Allergic reaction to a drug (medication)
    • Food allergies

SALIVARY GLAND ENLARGEMENT

  • Infection
  • Mumps
  • Salivary gland tumor
  • Stone in salivary duct
Home Care

Consult your health care provider to have the cause of the neck lump treated.

Call your health care provider if

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have an abnormal neck swelling, or lumps in your neck.

What to expect at your health care provider's office

The health care provider will take your medical history and do a physical examination.

Medical history questions may include:

  • Is it a hard lump?
  • Is it a relatively soft, pliable, bag-like (cystic) mass?
  • Is it a painless bag-like (cystic) mass?
  • Is the entire neck swollen?
  • Where is the lump located?
  • Has it been growing bigger? Over how many months?
  • What other symptoms are present?
  • Is there a rash?
  • Do you have difficulty breathing?

If you are diagnosed with a thyroid goiter, you may need medication or surgery to remove it. If the health care provider suspects a thyroid nodule, the following may help in diagnosis and treatment:

  • CT scan of the head or neck
  • Radioactive thyroid scan
  • Thyroid biopsy

If the lump is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be necessary. If the cause is a noncancerous mass or cyst, you may need surgery to remove it.

References

Pfaff JA, Moore GP. Otolaryngology. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 70.

Chen A, Otto KJ. Differential diagnosis of neck masses. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 116.


Review Date: 1/31/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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