Neck Masses

Any abnormal neck mass that persists longer than two weeks should be seen by a physician. If the mass is associated with a recent infection, this is most likely an enlarged lymph node, part of the immune system which fights infection. When the infection resolves, the lymph node swelling recedes. If a mass persists beyond that, you should see a physician.

What are some causes of persistent neck masses?

  • Enlarged lymph nodes, persistent
  • Benign congenital masses
  • Thyroid masses
  • Salivary gland masses
  • Vascular masses
  • Cysts
  • Cancer

When should you see your physician?

  • Neck mass persisting longer than two weeks, especially if not associated with a recent cold, flu or infection
  • Voice changes, hoarseness persisting longer than two weeks
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Growth in the mouth
  • Blood in saliva or phlegm
  • Persistent ear pain or ear pain when swallowing
  • Skin changes

Treatment

All patients with a neck mass need a full head and neck examination. Additional studies may be obtained as needed and include imaging studies (computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, or positron emission tomography) or biopsies. Treatment depends on the cause of the neck mass. Many benign masses can be removed with surgical excision. Head and neck cancers require surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments.

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