What is a Neck Mass?

A neck mass is described as an abnormal growth or lump in or around the neck area. They can be of varying sizes, small enough that they aren't noticeable except by touch, or large enough that they can be seen by others. Neck masses are fairly common in adults; however, the root cause can vary from something as simple as an infection to something more serious like a tumor or cancer.

Causes of a Neck Mass

Neck masses can develop in adults for multiple reasons. One of the most common causes of a neck mass beginning to form is because of a bacterial or viral infection. Infections and other causes of the development of a neck mass are listed below.

  • Oral or dental infection
  • Epstein-Barr virus or mononucleosis (mono)
  • Sinus or tonsil infection
  • Thyroid nodules
  • Ear infection
  • Bacterial pharyngitis
  • Strep throat
  • Goiter
  • Mumps

Neck masses that develop due to an infection should disappear when the infection is gone, or shortly afterwards.

A neck mass can also be one of the signs of a noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant) tumor. Most adult cancerous neck masses are the result of some form of head and neck cancer. Head and neck cancers are usually (about three out of every four) caused by overuse of tobacco or a combination of tobacco use and alcohol consumption.

Additional cancers that can cause neck masses include:

  • Salivary gland cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Skin cancer

Additionally, neck masses can be a result of cancer in another area of the body that has spread to the neck.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Neck Mass

The most common symptoms of people with a neck mass that is at risk of being cancerous can include the following:

  • Neck mass that is growing in size
  • Neck mass is shrinking in size, but does not fully go away
  • Neck mass that has been present for more than two weeks
  • Changes to the sound of your voice
  • Fever
  • Pain or swelling in or around the neck or throat
  • Swallowing difficulties, including pain, or frequent choking or gagging
  • Abrupt weight loss
  • Hearing difficulties in the ear on the same half of your body as the neck mass

Diagnosis of a neck mass will typically involve a physical examination, a review of your symptoms, consideration of your medical history and your family's medical history, and likely testing. Your doctor will determine the root cause of the neck mass, such as whether it is the result of a bacterial or viral infection, a noncancerous growth, or a malignant tumor.

Treatments for a Neck Mass

Specific treatments for neck masses will vary based on the underlying or root cause. Most infections are treatable with prescription medication. If the neck mass is a noncancerous tumor, it can be removed through surgery. Treatment for malignant tumors can involve chemotherapy, radiation treatments, or surgery.


All information provided on this website is for information purposes only. Please see a healthcare professional for medical advice. If you are seeking this information in an emergency situation, please call 911 and seek emergency help.

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