When Should I Worry About a Lump in My Neck?

Medically Reviewed on 10/13/2021
lump on neck
Most neck lumps are not harmful. However, in some cases, these bumps and cysts can be a sign of a serious medical condition.

Neck lumps can be painless or painful, and they may develop in a variety of shapes and sizes. They can be found on the side of the neck, under the jawline, at the back of the neck, or in the throat area. Most neck lumps are harmless. The neck contains lymph nodes, which swell in response to infection.

Adults frequently develop neck lumps, but the underlying cause is not always obvious. A lump in the neck could indicate a serious medical problem. It does not always imply that the patient has cancer or lymphoma, but it does indicate that additional medical testing is required before a diagnosis can be made.

You may need medical attention for a neck lump if you have the following signs and symptoms:

Subtle clues, such as a new bump or vein changes, may indicate underlying issues and how quickly people detect these can have a significant impact on their treatment.

  • General swelling
    • Bacteria from the plaque the hygienist removed from the teeth can sometimes enter the bloodstream, causing swollen lymph nodes. The swelling should subside in two weeks, but if it does not, see a doctor ensure there is no infection.
  • A lump on the throat
    • A thyroid mass is a lump that appears in the lower part of the neck or on one side of the neck.
    • A large one called goiter may eventually make it difficult to swallow or breathe.
  • Ballooning lymph nodes
    • This is often just a sign that the immune system is working hard to fight off a virus or inflammation, such as a cold or the flu. However, if there are nodes larger than a golf ball, have them checked out because this could indicate one of several types of neck cancer.
    • A swollen node that feels like a lump just below the jaw can be a sign of oral cancer, which is frequently linked to human papillomavirus, a common sexually transmitted infection.
    • Tumors frequently begin in the mouth and spread to the lymph nodes, where they become visible on the neck. Early detection can improve prognosis and increase treatment options.
  • A ropy bulge
    • If you notice a ropy bulge that appears along the side of the normally smooth neck, this could be an indication of heart trouble. When a person has heart failure, their heart does not pump blood as efficiently, causing things to back up and the jugular vein to bulge out. Schedule an appointment with the doctor as soon as possible.
    • Another red flag to call the doctor about is a visible neck pulse when your heart rate is resting. This could be an indication of a carotid artery tumor. A firm mass in the upper neck may be visible as well.

Many common symptoms are easily dismissed or misdiagnosed as the result of another illness or condition. Consult a doctor if you notice anything out of the ordinary or if you experience discomfort. Track your symptoms and look out for any warning signs. To determine the cause of symptoms, the doctor may order diagnostic tests, such as a biopsy or ultrasound scan, or refer the patient to an ear, neck, and throat specialist.

What are the common causes of neck lumps?

Most neck lumps are enlarged lymph nodes. A congenital cyst, an enlarged salivary gland, and an enlarged thyroid gland are examples of lumps. A lump in the neck or throat is most likely to be caused by one of the following (though there are several other possibilities):

  • An infection (such as a cold, ear, sinus, or throat infection)
  • Direct bacterial infection of a lymph node
  • Certain body-wide (systemic) infections
  • Sebaceous cysts in the skin
  • Lipomas (fatty cysts just under the skin)
  • Thyroid problems (goiter)
  • Cancer

When should I remove the neck lump?

Depending on the size, the doctor may advise to wait and see, take medication or antibiotics, or (in some cases) undergo surgery. If there is a neck lump or cyst, the doctor may advise you to have it removed.

Benign lumps

  • If the lump is large, people may want it removed because it is interfering with their appearance and confidence.
  • If benign lumps have the potential to develop into something more dangerous, it is removed.

Cancerous lumps

  • Removing cancerous lumps frequently necessitates extensive surgery, and the lymph nodes in the neck may need to be dissected and removed as well. This is done to keep cancer from spreading throughout the body.

The treatment of neck lumps or cysts is determined by the type of mass and the presence of infection. Besides the use of antibiotics, surgical removal of the mass is frequently required. Lumps in the head or neck region may be close to the airway, skull base, eyes, and a variety of other delicate or vital structures. The treatment of these lumps necessitates specialized surgical approaches.


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Medically Reviewed on 10/13/2021
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Is a Lump on My Neck a Sign of Cancer? https://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2020/02/is-a-lump-on-my-neck-a-sign-of-cancer/

Moffitt Cancer Center. What Doctor Should I See for a Lump on My Neck? https://moffitt.org/cancers/head-and-neck-cancer/faqs/doctor-for-lump-on-neck/

American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Foundation. Neck Mass in Adults. https://www.enthealth.org/conditions/evaluation-of-neck-mass-in-adults/