Neck lumps

A lump in the neck may be noticed by yourself or your family doctor. The location of the lumps may give clues as to the underlying cause. Masses in the neck may be congenital (present from birth) cysts, normal but active lymph nodes, inflammatory diseases, benign tumours or cancer. It is important that any neck lumps have a thorough assessment.

In the assessment of neck lumps the standard of care is a thorough physical exam, including flexible endoscopy of the nose and throat, with an ultrasound and possibly a needle test. A CT, MRI or PET/CT scan may also be arranged.

Congenital cysts are common and a confident diagnosis is possible in young people. Over the age of 35-40 years care must be taken to establish the correct diagnosis as occasionally an unexpected cancer may be identified. Congenital cysts are treated with surgery to prevent a serious infection.

Lumps in the thyroid and parotid gland are discussed here.

Lymph nodes may also present as a lump and whilst it is common for these to be enlarged during a viral illness or infection they should resolve within a few weeks. If they do not investigations should be arranged. Occasionally a lymph node may contain cancer cells that have spread from another area. In the head and neck these may be from the tonsil, back of the tongue or a skin cancer. Head and neck cancer is discussed here.

Neck lumps