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 Overview of the Lymphatic System The lymphatic system is a network of lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes that carry fluid called lymph. The lymphatic system is part of your immune system, which helps defend against infection... read more 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:
HIV Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Infection and AIDS The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a type of virus called a retrovirus. It causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which is life-threatening. HIV is called an immunodeficiency... read more or tuberculosis (TB) Tuberculosis (TB) Tuberculosis (TB) is a common, serious infection caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB affects millions of people worldwide, particularly in low-resource countries... read more infection (rare)
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 Overview of Lymphoma Lymphomas are cancers of lymphocytes, which reside in the lymphatic system and in blood-forming organs. Lymphomas are cancers of a specific type of white blood cells known as lymphocytes. These... read more , leukemia Overview of Leukemia Leukemias are cancers of white blood cells or of cells that develop into white blood cells. White blood cells develop from stem cells in the bone marrow. Sometimes the development goes awry... read more , or thyroid cancer Thyroid Cancer Your thyroid is a gland below the Adam’s apple in your neck. Your thyroid releases thyroid hormones. The hormones control how fast your body’s chemical functions work (metabolic rate). Almost... read more (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