Where could the lump come from?
Lumps can arise from the outside surface of your neck, ie your skin, or from anything underneath it. Lumps can come from many structures, most commonly:
- Your skin, and the layers of tissue, fat and muscle underneath it.
- Your thyroid gland. This gland is in the middle of the lower part of your neck and helps to control your metabolism.
- Your salivary glands. These glands release saliva when you eat, or think about food. There are three main salivary glands on each side of your neck. Your parotid gland is in front of your ears. Your submandibular gland is under your jaw, and your sublingual glands are under your tongue.
- The blood vessels in your neck. The main blood vessel in your neck is your carotid artery.
- Your lymph nodes. These swell up in the process of combatting infection or inflammation in your body. You have them in various places in your body, including many in the neck.
The specific location of the lump within your neck helps your doctor work out what the cause of the lump might be.
What are the causes of lumps in the neck?
Infections causing lymph glands to swell
This is the most common cause of lumps in the neck. All sorts of infections can cause lymph nodes to swell up. Examples are:
- The common cold.
- Chest infections.
- Ear infections.
- Dental infections and abscesses.
- Head lice.
- Skin infections (a very sore zit for example!).
- Glandular fever.
- Cold sore (herpes) infections.
- Kawasaki disease.
Other causes of lymph glands swelling
Lymph nodes can also swell due to inflammation. For example, if you have a skin rash, such as psoriasis or eczema on your head. A condition called sarcoidosis can also cause lymph nodes to swell. Cancers involving the lymph nodes tend to cause a harder swelling. Cancers which can cause lymph node swelling include:
Salivary gland problems
Between each salivary gland and the inside of your mouth, there is a tube (duct) which carries the saliva to your mouth. Sometimes these tubes get blocked by salivary gland stones or debris. The swelling caused by this tends to come and go, usually coming up when you eat and then settling. Salivary gland infections, such as mumps, may cause swelling in the neck. Occasionally a cancer can develop in a salivary gland.
Thyroid gland problems
Causes of lumps coming from the thyroid gland include:
- An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism).
- Non-cancerous lumps such as thyroid nodules, cysts and benign tumours.
- Thyroid cancer.
Your parathyroid glands are situated next to your thyroid, and occasionally lumps can come from these glands too.
All sorts of lumps and bumps can come from the skin on your neck, including:
- Acne with boils or carbuncles.
- Skin tags.
- Sebaceous cysts.
- Skin tumours, such as melanoma or squamous cell carcinoma.
A number of unusual lumps can occur that either people are born with (congenital) or which occurred as part of slightly abnormal development. These include unusual conditions such as:
- Thyroglossal cyst.
- Dermoid cyst.
- Cystic hygroma.
- Branchial cyst.
- An extra (cervical) rib.
Blood vessel lumps
Occasionally a lump can come from the main blood vessel in the neck, the carotid artery. Sometimes this enlarges, causing a lump called an aneurysm.
Tumours can be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous. Benign tumours include:
- Fatty lumps (lipomas).
- Benign tumours of other types of soft tissue, nerves or blood vessels.
Some of the cancerous lumps have already been described above. Others are bone tumours (sarcoma) or tumours of cartilage (chondrosarcoma).
Further reading and references
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