Overview of neck masses

What are neck masses?

Neck masses are common problems in infants and children. Some neck masses are congenital (present at birth) and result from abnormal development within the womb. Many neck masses appear with an upper respiratory infection such as a cold or sinus infection. Some are not found until they become enlarged and painful from infection. Although a neck mass can involve other structures in the head and neck area, most are benign (non-cancerous). Cancerous neck masses are rare in young infants and children, but occasionally a mass is diagnosed as Hodgkin's or non-Hodgkin's disease - both cancers of the lymphatic system.

Your child's physician will consider many factors when diagnosing a neck mass, including the following:

  • the age of child
  • how long the mass has been present, and whether other masses are present
  • family history of masses
  • any prior or ongoing illnesses, ear infections, and/or animal bites

Examination of neck masses may include the following:

  • careful visualization and palpation (feeling with the fingers) of the child's neck
  • identifying the specific location of the mass
  • checking for movement of the neck and the mass itself
  • observing for swelling, redness, warmth, tenderness, drainage, or fluid in the mass

Further tests may be needed to completely diagnose the type of neck mass and whether other tissues and structures in the neck are involved. Treating neck masses depends on the type of mass and whether there is infection. Often, surgical removal of the mass is needed.

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