A lump on your neck is also known as the neck mass, and it can range from large to very small in size. Most of them are, thankfully, not dangerous to your overall health, meaning they are noncancerous, or benign if you will, however, they can be a sign of a more serious condition, for example, a cancerous growth or an infection. Small or big, a neck mass should always be properly evaluated by a professional, so do not hesitate to go to your doctor to check for signs of cancer or something else.
When it comes to lumps on the back of your neck, they can be hard, soft, tender or not tender at all. They can be found under the skin and they are quite common, and most importantly, they are not usually a cause for too much concern. However, if you are over the age of forty, you are more likely to have a neoplastic cause for the lump and therefore should check it out promptly.
How is It Assessed?
Once you go to your doctor, you will most probably have to answer a series of question in regards to the lump. How long have you had it? Does it hurt? Did it change, how much, and over which period of time? Did you experience high fever? Did you experience coughing, sore throat, ear ache, tooth ache? Do you have a hard time swallowing? Is your voice unaffected? Do you smoke? Do you have a history of cancer in your family? Did you lose weight? Do you bleed or bruise inexplicably? Are you fatigued and running out of breath? Do you get night sweats?
Your doctor will determine the location, size, and mobility of the lump. He or she will also check if the lump is tender, red, hot, or inflamed, how deep it is located, meaning is in intradermal which can mean that it is a sebaceous cyst, or subcutaneous, or located within the deeper tissue. The doctor will check if the lump moves when you swallow or when you stick out your tongue.
What are the Causes?
There is a high number of possible causes of neck lumps, however, the most common ones include reactive lymph nodes to various causes. These can range from bacterial, for example, streptococci, tuberculosis, secondary syphilis, or staphylococcus aureus; viral such as Epstein-Barr virus, HIV, herpes simplex, and cytomegalovirus; parasitic, for example head lice, toxoplasmosis, or fungal infections; connective tissue disease; sarcoidosis; cat scratch disease, especially in children; Kawasaki disease.
Other causes can include malignant lymph nodes, which can be a sign of leukemia, lymphoma, or metastases of some cancers. Also, a cause can be an infection of the skin caused by an abscess or an infected sebaceous cyst. Lipomas and other benign tumors can also be a cause for the formation of neck lumps, and these tumors can be fibromas, neuromas, chondromas, and vascular tumors.
Thyroid swellings can cause neck lumps, or you could be suffering from salivary gland issues that can include tumors, infections, blocked ducts, and inflammations. Additionally, congenital swellings such as swellings of a dermoid cyst, thyroglossal cyst, cystic hygroma, and lymphangioma can cause them as well. Some abnormalities such as deviations of the branchial cyst, laryngocele, pharyngeal pouch, and cervical ribs, as well as carotid body aneurysms and tumors can lead to the formation of lumps on the back of your neck. And of course, we shall not forget malignant tumors such as sarcoma, chondrosarcoma, and skin malignancies, which are, naturally, the most dangerous ones.
However, the most common and least harmful cause is simply the swelling of lymph nodes. Lymph nodes tend to swell up when your body is trying to fight off an infection, such as strep throat, food allergies, and other more grave illnesses such as AIDS, leukemia, and tuberculosis. The cause of the swelling can also be a reaction to certain medications and vaccines.
Boils are another cause, and they most commonly start as tender red lumps on the back of your neck. These lumps are formed because the bacteria enter your hair follicles and create an infection, and the usual reaction of your body is to form a lump to fight it off. When it comes to boil-caused lumps, you can take care of them at home. Applying a warm compress for approximately ten to fifteen minutes every few hours can ease the symptoms and make the lump shrink. You should soak these compresses in warm salt water before you apply, as this will help the boil drain and rupture on its own.
Lumps on the Hairline
Lumps on the back of your neck right on or under the hairline can be large or small, and can also be movable and painful to the touch, or completely painless.
Lipoma is basically a fat deposit that can be found on the surface of your skin, it is soft and painless. It grows slowly and can be moved if you touch it with your finger. As previously mentioned, they are usually painless, however, when they grow to a certain size they can get painful as they tend to affect the nerves under the skin. Luckily, lipomas are not a cause for concern, however, if they cause discomfort, they can be removed at the dermatologist’s office quite easily.
Epidermoid cyst is a small lump that grows slowly and is usually painless and hard. However, when they get infected they can turn red and become tender, but they are not cancerous. They can be surgically removed if they rupture or become infected, and a doctor may prescribe corticosteroid injections to reduce the size of non-infected cysts.
Treatment of Neck Lumps
Generally speaking, there is no umbrella treatment for neck lumps as they tend to form due to various causes. The first thing you should expect when you go to your doctor is a variety of tests that can be performed to determine first the cause to be able to prescribe a proper treatment. Firstly, you can expect a complete blood count test to evaluate your overall health and blood cell count. Also, a sinus X-ray, ultrasound of the neck, chest X-ray (with which the doctor will see if there are any issues with your trachea, lungs, or chest lymph nodes), and even an MRI of the neck which will give the detailed image of your neck structure.
When it comes to treatment, if the lump is caused by a bacterial infection, it is usually treated with simple antibiotics. If, however, the cause is more serious, for example, if you are dealing with cancer, treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
As with all conditions, early detection is of the essence when it comes to a successful treatment. Good news is that most head and neck cancers can be cured completely if they are detected early on, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology.
In the end, not all neck lumps are a sign of a serious illness, however, you should always be aware of your health and take care of your body properly. It is better to prevent the illness than to treat it, so early diagnosis is essential, especially if the underlying cause ends up being something worth worrying over.