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Quick Facts

Neck Lumps in Children

(Neck Masses)


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jul 2020| Content last modified Jul 2020
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You or your child may notice a lump on your child’s neck. You may only be able to feel it, but sometimes you can see it too. If it isn't painful, it usually goes away quickly, even before you see a doctor.

  • Neck lumps are common in children

  • Most neck lumps in children are caused by infections that go away on their own

  • Lumps may or may not be painful, depending on the cause

  • If your child has had a lump for several weeks, doctors can do tests to check for a more serious cause

What causes a neck lump?

The most common cause of neck lumps is:

  • Swollen lymph nodes

Lymph nodes are small clumps of tissue that are part of the lymphatic system and help fight off infections. You usually don’t notice lymph nodes unless they’re swollen. People sometimes call these "swollen glands," but lymph nodes aren't glands.

Common causes of swollen lymph nodes include:

Less common causes of neck lumps are:

  • A cyst (a fluid-filled sac)

  • Swelling in the glands under the tongue that make saliva

  • A cancer such as lymphoma, leukemia, or thyroid cancer (cancer is rare in children)

How can doctors tell what’s causing the neck lump?

If your child has had a neck lump for several weeks, your child's doctor may:

  • Take a throat swab to look for a throat infection

  • Do blood tests for mono, a thyroid problem, or leukemia

  • Do a skin test for TB

  • Do an x-ray, ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI

If these tests don't give a clear answer, doctors may:

  • Do a biopsy of the lump

A biopsy involves removing a small piece of tissue with a needle. Doctors then look at the tissue under a microscope.

How do doctors treat neck lumps?

Most neck lumps are caused by minor virus infections. These go away on their own without treatment. Neck lumps from other causes may need specific treatment such as:

  • Antibiotics for a bacterial infection

  • Surgery for a cyst or tumor

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