Siavash Siv Eftekhari, M.D., DMD


Neck Masses & Lumps: Everything You Need to Know

Neck Masses & Lumps: Everything You Need to Know

If you have found you have a mass or lump on your neck, the most important step for you to take is to get it checked out by a professional. Often times, these lesions or bumps can be painful or serious. While doing your own in-depth research can be helpful, you should visit a doctor to get a true assessment of your neck condition as well as information on future steps and treatment.

For now, let’s take a look at everything you need to know about neck mass symptoms and neck lumps, as well as the symptoms and treatments that may go along with them.

What is it: The Possible Explanations for Neck Lumps and Masses

The term neck mass or lump is generally self-explanatory, meaning any sort of bump or swelling on the neck, but the true cause behind the mass can be widespread and varied. Your neck mass symptoms will help you determine your diagnosis.

The most common explanation for masses or lumps is a swollen lymph node. Swollen lymph nodes can occur for many reasons, the most prominent being a bacterial or viral infection known as lymphadenitis. On rare occasions, a swollen lymph node can indicate cancer.

Another possibility for a neck lump is swollen saliva glands. These glands, which are located under the jaw, may become swollen due to an infection or even cancer.

Lumps in your neck may also be the result of a muscular injury to the neck. Other bumps just under the skin may be cysts.

Your thyroid gland is also located in your neck, and it too can become inflamed due to thyroid disease or cancer.

While there are numerous other causes for lumps or growth on your neck, these are the most common ones, and they should all be checked by a doctor or a specialist.

Should I be Concerned About a Lump on My Neck?

You should see a doctor about any abnormality that appears on your body, but it’s also true that some of these conditions are less concerning than others. Because a mass on your neck could, in some rare cases, indicate cancer, it’s important to get them checked out.

Swollen lymph nodes due to infections, viruses, and general inflammation are very common and aren’t cause for too much concern. However, some more serious infections showcase mass lymph nodes in the neck as a symptom, such as mononucleosis or HIV. Because of this, you may need lymph node removal in the neck.

Salivary gland infections are very common and easy to treat. Caused most often by bacteria, many doctors will treat a salivary gland infection with antibiotics. Less serious infections can be treated with home remedies as well, like drinking plenty of water with lemon, massaging the affected glands, and rinsing with salt water.

Cysts are also common but can pose a bit of a question mark due to the fact that they may go away on their own, or they may continue to grow and require surgical removal. These nodules under the skin are generally not harmful, but they can be painful, and accidental popping can cause a serious infection. You should let your doctor handle this one and decide whether a mass excision is necessary or not.

The most concerning neck masses are those that are cancerous. Though rare, it is possible to have a cancerous mass on your neck or in various glands in the region. Cancerous masses require professional treatment and should be taken very seriously.

Are All Neck Masses Cancerous?

The quick answer to this question is: no, not all neck masses are cancerous. As we have discussed above, there are many very common explanations for the occurrence of these lumps and masses that are very easily treatable and may even disappear on their own. A mass lymph node in the neck may be just that.

However, some neck masses are very serious and even cancerous and require special treatment. There are several different kinds of head and neck cancer. They are:

  • Oral Cavity Cancer
  • Oropharyngeal Cancer
  • Nasal Cavity Cancer
  • Paranasal Sinus Cancer
  • Nasopharyngeal Cancer
  • Laryngeal Cancer
  • Hypopharyngeal Cancer

The most common form of head and neck cancer is carcinoma, which begins in the cells lining the nose, mouth, and throat.

A visit to your doctor followed by some questions and tests can determine whether your neck mass is a form of cancer, or whether it’s something lesser like a swollen gland.

Is Neck Cancer Deadly?

Stage I head and neck cancer has about a 76% survival rate. If treated quickly and properly, neck cancer does not have to be deadly. However, malignant tumors can spread quickly to other parts of the body like the lungs or the brain if a mass excision is not performed. In cases of late stages or spreading, neck cancer can become deadly.

How to Know if You Have a Tumor in Your Neck

Because there are so many reasons for a lump in your neck, it may be difficult to know on your own whether or not you truly have a tumor. This raises the importance of seeing a doctor who can properly diagnose your condition.

Here is a list of common symptoms experienced by those who have cancer in their neck:

  • Swelling or a sore that doesn’t heal
  • Red or white patch in the mouth
  • A Lump or a mass in the head/neck area
  • Continuously sore throat
  • Foul mouth odor despite proper hygiene
  • Change in voice
  • Nasal obstruction or congestion
  • Frequent nose bleeds and discharge
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Double vision
  • Numbness in the head/neck region
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, etc.
  • Loss of teeth
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Ear pain/infection
  • Blood in saliva
  • Jaw pain

You should discuss any, some, and all of these changes with your doctor as soon as possible. If a doctor suspects cancer, there is a series of tests and procedures they will follow in order to get a clear diagnosis.

After a discussion of your symptoms, your doctor will perform a physical exam along with blood and urine tests. From there, you will likely undergo an endoscopy, which allows the doctor to see inside the body, as well as a biopsy, which is a small removal of tissue for examination.

Other tests include molecular testing, x-rays, radiographs, ultrasounds, CAT scans, MRIs, bone scans, and PET scans. From here, your doctor will be able to provide you with accurate results as well as whether your tumor is benign or malignant.


In some cases, surgery is required or highly recommended by doctors. Less serious cases like swollen or infected glands can often be treated with medicine, but other conditions like cysts, tumors, and other unexplained masses or lesions may need to be surgically removed. You may even need lymph node removal in the neck.

A professional head and neck doctor will provide you with consultations, treatment, and surgery options. In addition, you may also receive professional reconstruction depending on the severity of the mass excision.

Benign Neck Tumor Surgery

While no tumor is a good tumor, a benign tumor is easier to tackle because they do not spread to other parts of the body. However, benign tumors can become malignant in rate cases and can develop into cancer.

Before having benign neck tumor surgery, you will have a consultation where your surgeon will discuss the operation with you.

In addition to the possibility of a benign tumor becoming malignant, you may also have a neck tumor removed for cosmetic or comfort reasons. Surgery to remove a tumor often involves the use of endoscopic techniques, which allow surgeons to perform smaller incisions and thus less recovery time.

Of course, this will vary by case and by how large the tumor is.

Neck Cyst Removal Surgery

While neck cysts are typically unharmful and certainly are not life-threatening, they can be painful or uncomfortable. Plus, should they pop or burst, they can cause serious infections.

Neck cyst removal surgery involves one of the following:

  • Conventional Wide Excision
  • Minimal Excision
  • Laser with Punch Biopsy Excision

All of these are plausible solutions, but they each have their downfalls.

Conventional excisions completely remove cysts; however, the patient will likely have a large scar. Minimal excisions leave very little scarring, but they leave you with the risk of your cyst returning. Laster excision drains the cyst of its insides, but it requires a patient to return about a month later to have the outer walls of the cyst removed.

Neck Lump Removal Surgery

Other lumps and masses can be treated with surgery, such as swollen lymph nodes. If your doctor feels surgery is the best option, they will perform an incision in the skin for neck lump removal surgery.

After the node is removed, the surgeon will close the incision with stitches, staples, or glue and bandage the area. You may also receive a tube to drain any fluids that can build up after the surgery.

Neck Mass Surgery Recovery Time

Neck mass surgery recovery time depends on the type of surgery you needed. Along with the removal of tumors or lymph nodes, a surgeon sometimes needs to remove other structures on your neck like muscle, nerves, vein, or a gland. These additional removals typically will not affect you in the future, except for the removal of a nerve that makes it difficult to raise your arm higher than 90 degrees.

Post neck mass removal surgery, you will have received stitches, staples, or glue along with a bandage to close your incisions. In some cases, you may also have a drainage tube.

You will likely experience some pain after your surgery, for which your doctor will prescribe you pain relief medication. You’ll also get antibiotics to prevent infection.

As the amount of drainage you experience decreases to less than 25 to 30 milliliters in 24 hours, you can get your drain tube removed. This usually happens 3 to 5 days after your surgery. You will be allowed to shower 24 hours after your drain is removed.

Most patients will either go home with the drain in place or will stay in the hospital until this happens. Your surgeon will let you know for your procedure. If you do not stay in the hospital, you will get your staples or stitches removed during your first follow-up visit with your doctor.

More intensive surgeries may require you to keep your incision closing for 2 to 3 weeks. Most patients can return to their normal routine within 3 to 6 weeks of their surgery.

For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact a head and neck surgeon who can give you more accurate descriptions and timelines as well as answer any questions you may have.