Lump in the neck

Alternative names
Neck lump

A neck lump is any lump, bump, or swelling in the neck.

There are many causes of lumps in the neck. The most frequently seen lumps or swellings are enlarged lymph nodes, which can be caused by bacterial or viral infections, malignancy, and other rare causes.

Enlargement of the submandibular salivary glands (under the jaw) may result from infection or malignancy. Lumps in the muscles of the neck, almost always in the front of the neck and involving the sternocleidomastoid muscle, result from injury or torticollis. Lumps in the skin or just below the skin are often caused by cysts such as sebaceous cysts.

The thyroid gland may also produce a lump, multiple lumps, or swelling in the neck as a result of thyroid disease or malignancy. Most cancers of the thyroid gland are extremely slow growing and often curable by surgery even if they have been present for several years.

Common Causes

  • Bacterial       o Strep throat       o Other types of bacterial pharyngitis (sore throat from a bacterial infection)       o Cat scratch disease       o Tuberculosis  
  • Viral       o Infectious mononucleosis       o HIV disease       o AIDS       o Rubella (German measles)       o Viral pharyngitis       o Herpes infections  
  • Malignant       o Hodgkin’s disease       o Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma       o Leukemia       o Metastatic oral lesions (mouth cancer)       o Other malignancy  
  • Thyroid       o Grave’s disease       o Goiter       o Cancer of the thyroid  
  • Other       o Allergic reaction to a drug (medication)       o Food allergies       o Other allergic reactions


  • Infection  
  • Mumps  
  • Stone in salivary duct  
  • Salivary gland tumor

Home Care
Consult your health care provider for treatment of the cause of the neck lump.

Call your health care provider if

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have prolonged and abnormal neck swelling or the presence of lumps.

What to expect at your health care provider’s office

The health care provider will obtain your medical history and will perform a physical examination.

Medical history questions documenting your neck lump in detail may include the following:

  • Type       o Is it a firm lump?       o Is it a relatively soft, pliable bag-like (cystic) mass?       o Is it a painless bag-like (cystic) mass?       o Is the entire neck swollen?  
  • Where is it located?  
  • Time pattern       o Has it been increasing in size?       o Over how many months?  
  • What other symptoms are also present?  
  • Is there a rash?  
  • Is there difficulty breathing?

If a thyroid goiter is diagnosed, medical management or surgical removal may be indicated. If a thyroid nodule is suspected, a radioactive thyroid scan, CT scan of the head or neck, or thyroid biopsy may assist in diagnosis and treatment.

If the lump is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be necessary. If the cause is a benign mass or cyst, surgical removal may be necessary.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Janet G. Derge, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.