What are neck lumps?
These could be a mass of any size that present in the neck, and may be due to a number of possible factors. Though the underlying cause is not always sinister, it is helpful to seek help from a medical professional to diagnose the possible causes and to rule out diseases such as cancer.
Why do neck lumps form?
Neck lumps and bumps are common and they have numerous possible causes. They may arise from the skin or from structures underneath.
1. Lymph Nodes
There are many causes for lymph nodes in the neck to be enlarged, but one of the most common causes is due to infection. Lymph nodes may be enlarged due to infections such as upper respiratory tract infection, skin infections, ear infections, or even chronic infections such as tuberculosis.
Sometimes an enlarged lymph node in the neck can also be the first sign of underlying cancer. Certain cancers (e.g. nasopharyngeal cancers, melanoma, oral cancers) tend to spread to lymph nodes and an enlarged lymph node can sometimes be the first sign of underlying cancer. Some cancers like lymphoma also first develop in lymph nodes.
2. Thyroid Nodules
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck. It produces hormones that control and regulate the growth and rate of function of many systems in the body. The thyroid gland can sometimes develop solid or fluid filled lumps.
Although most of these lumps are not cancerous lumps, a small proportion of them will be cancerous. Some of these lumps may also cause problems when they grow larger and compress on other structures in the neck causing swallowing and breathing difficulties.
Some of these lumps may also secrete too much thyroid hormone that may cause symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
It is important to see a doctor to evaluate these lumps, as it is not easy to tell which lumps need treatment without doing proper investigations.
3. Skin and Subcutaneous Lumps
Lumps in the neck can also arise from the skin or just below the skin. Most of these lumps are not cancerous and do not cause symptoms. However a small proportion of these lumps can occasionally turn out to be cancerous. Worrying signs include:
Change in size of a lump
Change in colour of surface of the lump
Other lumps appearing around the lump
Enlarged lymph nodes
It is important to seek a medical opinion if you have any of these symptoms.
4. Salivary Gland Enlargement
Salivary glands are organs in the neck that secrete saliva, which helps us digest our food. These glands can sometimes become enlarged for various reasons that include tumours, infection or secondary to an underlying medical condition.
5. Thyroglossal Cysts/Branchial Cysts
These are lumps/cysts that occur during the body’s development. Although present at birth, they may only enlarge and be discovered later on in life. These lumps/ cysts should usually be removed surgically to prevent complications.
How is it treated?
After an assessment by your doctor, you may be required to undergo further tests which include imaging tests such as ultrasound scans, MRI scans, and so on.
There are a few ways that the lump can be removed. One of which is a fine-needle biopsy to aspirate the lump, or removing the lump through a surgical procedure. In cases where the lump is cancerous, it may be necessary to remove the lymph nodes in the neck as cancer cells may have spread to them.
Some lumps in the neck can be safely observed. Your doctor may advise you to have a follow-up test at a later date to check if there are any changes.
When should I seek medical help?
A neck mass is a worrying thing for some patients. This is especially true if it is newly discovered. You should quickly seek an evaluation from your doctor to determine if it is something that needs evaluation and treatment.
With our doctor, we can arrange for evaluation quickly for our patients. Many malignancies or cancers can be treated if detected early!