A neck lump is any lump, bump, or swelling in the neck.
Lump 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 doctor. 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.
A lump or swelling in the neck can result from the following:
- Atypical mycobacterium (a type of bacteria)
- Bacterial pharyngitis
- Cat scratch disease
- Peritonsillar abscess
- Strep throat
- Herpes infections
- HIV disease
- Infectious mononucleosis
- Rubella (German measles)
- Viral pharyngitis
Salivary Gland Enlargement
See your health care provider to have the cause of the neck lump treated.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
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 Office Visit
The health care provider will take your medical history and do a physical examination.
Medical history questions may include:
- Where is the lump located?
- Is it a hard lump?
- Is it a soft, pliable (moves slightly), bag-like (cystic) mass?
- Is it a painless bag-like (cystic) mass?
- Is the entire neck swollen?
- Has it been growing bigger? Over how many months?
- What other symptoms do you have?
- Do you have 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:
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.
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: Elsevier Mosby; 2009:chap 70.
Chen A, Otto KJ. Differential diagnosis of neck masses. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 116.
Reviewed 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. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.