A neck lump is any lump, bump, or swelling in the neck.
There are many causes of lumps in the neck. The most common lumps or swellings are enlarged lymph nodes. These can be caused by bacterial or viral infections, cancer (malignancy), or other rare causes.
Swollen salivary glands under the jaw may be caused by infection or cancer. Lumps in the muscles of the neck are caused by injury or torticollis. These lumps are often at the front of the neck. Lumps in the skin or just below the skin are often caused by cysts, such as sebaceous cysts.
The thyroid gland may also produce swelling or one or more lumps. This can be due to thyroid disease or cancer. Most cancers of the thyroid gland grow very slowly. They are often cured with surgery, even if they have been present for several years.
All neck lumps in children and adults should be checked right away by a health care provider. In children, most neck lumps are caused by infections that can be treated. Treatment should start quickly to prevent complications or the spread of infection.
As adults age, the likelihood of the lump being a cancer increases. This is particularly true for people who smoke or drink a lot of alcohol. Most lumps in adults are not cancers.
See your provider to have the cause of the neck lump treated.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have an abnormal neck swelling or lumps in your neck.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
The health care provider will take your medical history and do a physical exam.
You may be asked questions such as:
- Where is the lump located?
- Is it a hard lump or a soft, pliable (moves slightly), bag-like (cystic) mass?
- Is it painless?
- Is the entire neck swollen?
- Has it been growing bigger? Over how many months?
- Do you have a rash or other symptoms
- Do you have difficulty breathing?
If you are diagnosed with a thyroid goiter, you may need to take medicine or have surgery to remove it.
You may need the following tests if the provider suspects a thyroid nodule:
If the lump is caused by a bacterial infection, you may need to take antibiotics. If the cause is a noncancerous mass or cyst, you may need surgery to remove it.
Lump in the neck
Nugent A, El-Deiry M. Differential diagnosis of neck masses. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 114.
Pfaff JA, Moore GP. Otolaryngology. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 72.
Update Date 1/31/2015
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.