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 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.
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.
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.
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.