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Neck Masses

Neck Lumps, Growths, or Swelling

Neck masses, also referred to as neck lumps or neck swellings, are abnormal, localized enlargements in the neck region. These masses can vary in size, shape, and consistency and may be caused by a wide range of underlying conditions. Identifying the cause of a neck mass is important for proper diagnosis and treatment. 


Several factors can characterize neck masses such as:


  • Size: Neck masses can vary in size from small, barely noticeable lumps to larger, palpable swellings.

  • Location: The exact location of the neck mass can provide clues about its origin. For example, lymph nodes are commonly found in specific regions of the neck.

  • Pain: Some neck masses may be painful or tender, especially if they are related to infections or inflammatory conditions.

  • Consistency: The texture of the mass can vary, ranging from soft and mobile (as seen in lipomas) to firm or hard (as seen in malignancies).


Common causes of Neck Masses include:


  • Lymphadenopathy: Enlarged lymph nodes, often due to infections or inflammatory conditions, are one of the most common causes of neck masses.

  • Infections: Bacterial or viral infections, such as tonsillitis, pharyngitis, or dental abscesses, can lead to swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

  • Benign Tumors: Non-cancerous growths, such as lipomas (fatty tumors), sebaceous cysts, or benign salivary gland tumors, can result in neck masses.

  • Malignant Tumors: Cancerous growths, including head and neck cancers, thyroid cancer, or metastatic tumors from other parts of the body, may present as neck masses.

  • Thyroid Disorders: Conditions like thyroid nodules, goiters, or thyroid cancer can cause neck swelling.

  • Inflammatory Conditions: Disorders like sarcoidosis or granulomatous diseases can lead to inflammatory neck masses.

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To diagnose a neck mass, your doctor will ask you about your medical history and perform a physical exam. They may also order some tests, such as blood tests, imaging tests, or a biopsy.

Physical Examination

A thorough physical examination, including palpation of the neck, is usually the first step in evaluating a neck mass. The healthcare provider assesses the size, location, and characteristics of the mass.


Imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scans, or MRI scans may be ordered to provide detailed information about the size, location, and internal characteristics of the mass.


In many cases, a tissue biopsy is necessary to determine the nature of the neck mass. This involves removing a small tissue sample from the mass for examination under a microscope.


Treatment for a neck mass depends on the underlying cause. Common treatment options may include antibiotics for infections, surgical removal for benign or cancerous tumors, or other targeted therapies for specific conditions. Cancerous neck masses may require a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.


Any new or persisting neck mass should be evaluated by a healthcare provider, preferably an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist or an oncologist. Prompt evaluation and diagnosis are critical for determining the cause of the mass and initiating appropriate treatment when necessary.

When to see a Doctor

You should see a doctor for a neck mass if:

  • The mass is large or growing rapidly.

  • The mass is hard or painless.

  • The mass is accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever, difficulty swallowing, or shortness of breath.

If you are unsure whether or not you should see a doctor for a neck mass, it is always best to err on the side of caution and schedule an appointment.

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