Everything You Need to Know about a Lump in the Neck

A lump in the neck can cause symptoms such as difficulty swallowing or hoarseness. Read on to learn more!
Everything You Need to Know about a Lump in the Neck
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

When a person notices a lump in their neck, they may become alarmed. After all, the first thing that usually comes to mind is cancer. However, there are numerous causes other than cancer. In fact, not all of them are malignant. For example, an infection, a cyst, or a benign tumor can all cause a lump in the neck.

The main cause of a lump in the neck is swollen lymph nodes, which are round structures that are part of the immune system and are distributed throughout the body. They help the body recognize and fight infections and tend to swell often. This is usually a very common and temporary situation.

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about lumps in the neck.

The main causes of a lump in the neck

As we mentioned above, the most common cause of a lump in the neck is swollen lymph nodes. Overall, this can occur for various reasons:

  • A nearby infection. For example, a cold or throat infection. This is very common, especially in children. Mononucleosis, tooth abscesses, and tonsillitis are also worthy of mention.
  • A lymph node infection also called lymphadenitis.
  • Systemic diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and tuberculosis.

Moreover, certain immune disorders can also cause a lump in the neck. This occurs because they cause swelling in the lymph nodes, just like infections. The most prominent disease is rheumatoid arthritis, a disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. This condition mainly affects the joints.

Similarly, certain medications can make lymph nodes bigger. A lump in the neck can also be caused by a cyst, which is a fluid-filled sac. Cysts are most easily identifiable because many of them are present at birth. Another possible cause is a salivary gland problem.

However, we can’t ignore the fact that it could also be due to cancer. Keep in mind that malignant tumors are more common in older people. Although it may be a cancerous lymph node, it can also be a tumor from a neighboring structure that has spread. In fact, it may even be a metastasis of a distant tumor.

This article may interest you: 6 Natural Remedies that May Help Clean Your Lymphatic System

Alarming signs and symptoms if you have a lump in your neck

If you have a lump in your neck, you have to go see a doctor for a checkup. It’s very important to perform the necessary tests that will lead to a diagnosis. However, in addition to the complementary tests, several signs can help orient you regarding the nature of these lumps.

A soft and painful lump is usually indicative of an infection. These lumps tend to disappear after a while. Moreover, lymphadenitis tends to cause lymph node sensitivity. If the lump is hard, immobile, and doesn’t hurt, it could be a tumor.

Tumors can also cause other symptoms such as aphonia (hoarseness) or difficulty swallowing. If you have a lump in your neck that doesn’t go away and also causes any of the symptoms we mentioned here, go see your doctor as soon as possible.

A lump in the neck.

You may also like this article: How to Know if a Lump is Benign or Malignant

Diagnostic tests

Numerous tests can lead to a medical diagnosis. However, if the patient is young, a tumor isn’t likely to be the cause. Also, these tests aren’t usually necessary if there are signs of a nearby infection. Similarly, medical professionals evaluate the consistency and if it causes pain.

Medical professionals usually first request a complete blood count. They may also request chest X-rays. When there are warning signs or risk factors for cancer, more accurate tests can be performed. These include biopsy, in which a portion of the lump is extracted for examination.

Plus, doctors can request imaging tests, such as CT scans and MRI scans. Ultrasounds are also useful sometimes.


A lump in the neck is usually caused by a lymph node that has increased in size. The most common cause of this is a nearby infection that usually disappears on its own.

However, you have to pay attention to other symptoms. If the lump in your neck isn’t painful and doesn’t move, it could be a tumor. Ideally, you should go see your doctor to find out.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.