Neck Lumps and Bumps - Diagnosis

Authored by Dr Mary Harding, 05 Jul 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Hannah Gronow, 05 Jul 2017

First the doctor will want some more information about the lump or swelling. You will be asked questions such as:

  • How long has it been there?
  • Did it come up gradually or suddenly?
  • Does it hurt?
  • Have you been unwell in any way?
  • Have you travelled abroad recently?
  • Have you had any skin rashes?
  • Have you any other symptoms? (Particularly feeling tired, easy bruising, sweats in the night, losing weight.)
  • Do you smoke?

The lump will then be examined. This will give the doctor an idea of its location within your neck, its consistency and whether there are any other lumps. You may be asked to swallow while the doctor feels it (as lumps in the thyroid gland move as you swallow). Or you may be asked to stick your tongue out. (A congenital swelling called a thyroglossal cyst moves as you do this.) Your doctor may want to examine you elsewhere - for example, to listen to your lungs with a stethoscope, to look in your ears and throat for infection, or to feel for enlargement of other lymph glands or organs. Other checks may be relevant, depending on the site of the swelling.

Your doctor may then suggest some tests, depending on what they have found on examination and on where the lump is. Blood tests may be helpful, to check on your thyroid function, and to rule out blood-related cancers such as lymphomas or leukaemias. They may also be helpful to check for infections such as glandular fever.

An ultrasound scan is often a helpful test, to establish the nature of the lump. Other types of scans may also be used.

A chest X-ray may be needed in some cases.

In some cases no tests are needed if the lump is thought to be a normal lymph node, reacting to an infection or inflammation in your system. However, if this doesn't settle once the condition causing it to swell has gone, further tests would be done.

Further reading and references

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