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What is a Neck Mass?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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A neck mass is a clump of accumulated cells in the neck and can be caused by a variety of different things. Common causes for neck lumps are fat deposits, thyroid disorders, or cysts. The least common but most serious cause of a neck mass is neck cancer or lymphoma. Although cancer is rare, any unexplained mass should be investigated by a medical professional.

Fat deposits are one common cause of a mass in the meck. They can occur even on people who are not overweight and usually cause a firm lump or mass beneath the top layer of the skin. Often, a fatty mass will be movable under the skin and may be asymmetrical in shape. No treatment is needed for fat deposits, as they cause no symptoms and often occur in healthy individuals.

Cysts are also common causes of masses in the neck. These result due to cells which accumulate under the skin and form a firm, hard, lump. Cysts are typically benign, meaning non-cancerous, and require no treatment unless they grow very large. Large cysts may cause a blockage of the wind pipe or trachea or may become unsightly. Treatment generally includes surgery to remove the mass.

Thyroid disorders may also cause a mass, usually at the base of the neck, where the thyroid gland is located. The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the neck which may become inflamed and swollen with certain disorders. When this happens, the swelling forms what appears to be a mass. In certain types of thyroid conditions, surgery may be needed to remove the thyroid. Most times, though, the only treatment necessary is performed with oral medications to supplement thyroid hormones.

The most dreaded form of neck mass is neck cancer, which can affect the neck directly or be located in the lymph nodes or thyroid, both located in the neck. Cancer is caused by the collection of mutated cells, which grow rapidly and take over healthy tissues in the body. The neck mass in this case would caused by an accumulation of these cells. Although rarely the cause of neck swelling or lumps, cancer is a serious disease which must be treated promptly.

Symptoms of neck cancer may vary based on the type of cancer, but can include fatigue, trouble swallowing, hoarseness, nausea, and sore throat. These symptoms are very rarely signs of cancer, but if they persist for more than two weeks or become very severe, medical attention is advised. Survival rates of neck cancer vary based on the type and stage of the disease. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of all three.

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