A Lump in the Neck: Causes, Types, and Treatment

The presence of a tumor in the neck or some other region is often highly associated with cancer. Fortunately, there are many very common benign conditions that can be responsible for this symptom.
A Lump in the Neck: Causes, Types, and Treatment

Last update: 16 January, 2023

Masses or lumps in the body are one of the most frequent reasons for consultation in many medical offices. A lump in the neck can be due to a host of different pathologies, although most of them are benign. Would you like to get to know more about this occurrence? Keep reading!

The neck is a cylindrical anatomical region, whose main function is to support the head and contain the blood vessels that will supply the brain. It has multiple structures, from glands to muscles, which can be affected by different factors.

The treatment of a lump in the neck will depend on the precise cause and the characteristics of the lump. Fortunately, lumps of benign origin are treated relatively easily, achieving complete remission of the abnormality in most cases.

Why would a lump on the neck appear?

The causes of the presence of a lump on the neck are very varied. Fortunately, most of the pathologies responsible for this symptom are of benign origin and remit without major consequences.

Some studies show that up to 10% of cancers appear in the neck or head. Therefore, the presence of a lump in the neck shouldn’t be taken lightly. In addition, the following pathologies should be considered as possible culprits.


A lump in the neck may be due to infections.
When there is a local infection, generally of the respiratory system, the lymph nodes are enlarged due to the immune response triggered.

Infections are the most common cause of a neck lump. The invasion of pathogens can cause inflammation of the lymph nodes in the region, thus causing a lump to appear.

Lymph nodes swell in the presence of an infection as part of the immune response. The main objective is to control and eliminate the pathogen. Any infection can cause inflammation of the lymph nodes, however, the most frequent causes include the following:

  • Tonsillitis
  • Bacterial PHARMINGITIS
  • Dental and respiratory infections
  • Infectious mononucleosis
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
  • Rubella
  • Diphtheria
  • Measles

Changes in the skin or subcutaneous cellular tissue

The skin that lines the neck can present various alterations that cause the appearance of a lump. One of the most common skin disorders is lipomas. Lipomas are benign tumors composed of adipose tissue, which are located in the subcutaneous tissue.

Other changes that can be observed on the skin are paragangliomas. These are very rare tumors that originate from the paraganglionic system and are located in the lateral region of the neck.

Ultimately, the infectious processes of the skin of the neck can cause the appearance of a lump. Thus, skin abscesses, folliculitis, and even erysipelas can be causative agents of a lump in this area.

Glandular disorders

The neck contains many glandular structures. The major salivary glands and the thyroid gland are located in this region, so any changes in them can cause the appearance of a lump.

Thyroid disorders are very common at any age. Many people have thyroid cysts, which are variable in size and can become visible to the naked eye. The increase in the size of this gland, known as a goiter, can also cause an obvious mass in the neck.

The salivary glands can be affected by many conditions, and increase their size, thus creating an evident mass. One of the most common causes is a viral infection called mumps.

Congenital conditions

Some malformations that occur during the intrauterine stage cause the appearance of a lump in the neck. These findings are more frequent in the pediatric age and don’t usually cause any danger to the child. The characteristics of the lumps can vary, although in most cases they’re small and painless.

Some studies show that the thyroglossal duct cyst is the most common congenital cervical tumor of all. Thyroglossal duct cysts are more common in women and are usually located in the anterior region of the neck, just in the midline. Other congenital tumors that can cause a neck mass include the following:

  • Cysts of the branchial arches
  • Cystic lymphangiomas
  • Ranula
  • Hemangiomas
  • Epidermoid and dermoid cysts
  • Teratomas

Neoplastic pathologies

The neck is a region where many malignant neoplasms can lodge. Cancerous tumors of the neck can be both local and the product of metastasis. Fortunately, this is the least common cause of all, albeit the most dangerous.

One of the neoplasms that most often causes a lump in the neck is Hodgkin lymphoma. It’s a disease that directly affects lymph nodes throughout the body, including those in the neck. Other malignant neoplasms that can be observed with great frequency are the following:

Types of lumps in the neck

A lump in the neck can be classified according to its origin as either benign or malignant. Both types of tumors have very clear clinical characteristics, which allow them to be easily and quickly differentiated from each other.

Benign tumors vary in size, although they’re usually larger than their malignant counterparts. They are generally soft in consistency, mobile, and very painful on palpation. Benign lumps also have well-defined boundaries and can be bilateral.

On the other hand, a malignant tumor is smaller, hard in consistency and not painful on palpation. Cancer tumors can adhere to other structures, so they won’t be mobile and their edges will be irregular. Furthermore, bilaterality is very rare in these cases.

Available treatment

A lump in the neck can be treated in a number of ways.
There are many solutions for treating neck lumps, ranging from antibiotics to surgery. Of course, it depends on the cause.

Treatment for a neck lump will depend on the origin of the condition. Masses due to swollen lymph nodes disappear when drugs are given to fight the infection. Bacterial infections will require the administration of antibiotics, while the treatment of viral conditions is symptomatic.

Congenital cysts and some skin conditions such as lipomas will require surgical treatment. People can undergo a quick outpatient procedure to remove the lump if necessary.

Finally, the treatment available for malignant growths will depend on the severity of the condition and its location. Some cancerous tumors can remit with a small surgical intgervention in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. However, there are cases in which surgery is not an option.

A common condition that requires medical attention

The presence of a lump in the neck can be due to a large number of different conditions. The most common cause of all is the presence of swollen lymph nodes resulting from an infection. Some congenital malformations, and skin or glandular alterations can also be the cause.

People must learn to quickly differentiate the presence of a malignant lump. Cancerous tumors are painless, hard, and immobile, so medical attention should be sought in the presence of a mass with these characteristics.

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