What causes a neck lump?

Neck lumps have many possible causes, including trauma, infection, inflammatory disease, benign cysts and tumors, and cancer. A common cause of lumps in the neck is lymph node swelling due to an infectious process, such as strep throat.

Common infectious causes of a neck lump

Neck lumps are commonly caused by or associated with viral and bacterial infections. Infections that commonly cause neck lumps include:

  • Abscesses

  • Boils

  • Common cold (viral respiratory infection)

  • Ear infection

  • Infected tooth (abscessed tooth)

  • Influenza (flu)

  • Mononucleosis (viral infection)

  • Mumps (viral infection of the salivary glands in the neck)

  • Strep throat (bacterial throat infection) and other throat infections

  • Tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils in the back of the throat)

Other infectious causes of a neck lump

Less common but potentially life-threatening infectious diseases that cause neck lumps include:

  • Cat scratch fever (bacterial infection from being scratched or bitten by a cat that carries the bacteria)

  • Cellulitis (bacterial skin infection)


  • Salivary gland infection

  • Syphilis (sexually transmitted disease caused by bacteria)

  • Tuberculosis (serious infection affecting the lungs and other organs)

Autoimmune diseases that can cause a neck lump

Neck lumps can also be caused by problems with the immune system itself, such as:

  • Graves’ disease (type of hyperthyroidism resulting in excessive thyroid hormone production)

  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation in children and adolescents)

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

Cancers that can cause a neck lump

Neck lumps can be caused by various cancers including:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma (Hodgkin’s disease) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma

  • Leukemia (cancer of the blood or bone marrow)

  • Melanoma (cancer arising in the melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells, in the skin or other parts of the body)

  • Metastasized cancer that has traveled to the lymph nodes

  • Non-melanoma skin cancers

  • Oral, mouth or larynx cancer

  • Thyroid cancer

Benign tumors that can cause a neck lump

Benign tumors that can cause neck lumps include:

  • Fibroma (benign tumor composed of fibrous or connective tissue)

  • Lipoma (benign fatty growth)

  • Nevi (moles of the skin)

  • Salivary gland tumor

Other causes of neck lumps

Neck lumps can also be caused by:

  • Allergic reaction

  • Broken bones, such as a fractured collarbone (clavicle)

  • Bruising or hematoma (collection of blood in body tissues)

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

  • Goiter

  • Insect sting or bite injuries

  • Lymphatic obstruction (blockage in the lymph system)

  • Salivary duct stone

Questions for diagnosing the cause of a neck lump

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your symptoms including:

  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms along with the lump?

  • Do you have difficulty breathing?

  • How long have you had the lump?

  • Is the lump getting bigger?

  • Is the lump painful?

What are the potential complications of a neck lump?

Neck lumps attributed to swollen lymph nodes caused by a minor viral infection often can be treated with self-care measures at home and the swelling will go away as your body fights off the infection. For persistent or chronic swelling, redness and pain, it is important to seek medical care because these are symptoms of a possible bacterial infection. Bacterial infections will need to be treated with antibiotics and a treatment plan designed by your doctor.

Left untreated, a localized bacterial infection can spread to the blood and quickly become life threatening. In addition, untreated or poorly controlled lymphoma, leukemia, and other cancers that cause neck lumps can spread and lead to loss of life. Following your treatment plan for serious causes of neck lumps can help reduce your risk of complications including:

  • Abscess

  • Rheumatic fever (inflammatory disease that can develop as a complication of strep throat)

  • Scarlet fever (rash caused by strep infections)

  • Shock and coma

  • Spread of cancer

  • Spread of infection to the blood (septicemia or bacteremia)

  • Toxic shock syndrome


  1. Neck lump. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0003587/.
  2. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/non-hodgkin.
  3. Soft tissue tumors - benign. Cedars-Sinai. http://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Soft-Tissue-Tumors---Benign.aspx.
  4. Swollen lymph nodes. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003097.htm.

What is a neck lump?

A neck lump is a protuberance or localized area of swelling in the neck. Other general terms used to describe neck lumps include neck bump, nodule, contusion, tumor, growth and cyst. Lumps in the neck can be caused by a number of conditions, including infections, inflammation, tumors and trauma.

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What other symptoms might occur with a neck lump?

A neck lump may be accompanied by other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Certain conditions that cause neck lumps may also involve other body systems.

Localized symptoms that may occur with a neck lump

A neck lump may be accompanied by other localized symptoms in or around the lump including:

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 7, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Infections and Contagious Diseases

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