Get an accurate diagnosis and a treatment plan for benign neck masses.
Benign neck masses are abnormal growths or irregularities occurring in the neck area that are not cancerous (malignant). They differ from cancerous growths in that they will not spread (metastasize) to other areas. Masses in the neck can appear as visible lumps or discolored areas; or the growths may only be detected when difficulty with speech or swallowing is experienced.
Neck masses are fairly common, but the only way to confirm if a mass is not cancerous is to have it evaluated by a specialist.
The prognosis with benign neck masses is usually good.
Benign neck masses can take many forms. A growth may appear as a mole. If moles are unusual looking, or atypical, they should be evaluated. It’s moles like this that may be a sign of melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. Salivary gland adenomas, while non-cancerous, may be problematic if they affect throat functions. Similar benign growths may also develop within lymph nodes, the thyroid gland, or the tiny parathyroid glands in the neck. Approximately 80 percent of salivary gland tumors are benign masses. Usually soft, round, and colorless in appearance, lipomas are often referred to as skin bumps. Neurofibromas and schwannomas are benign nerve tumors that sometimes develop in the neck.
Symptoms and Signs
Benign neck masses may appear in locations that start around the lower jugular chin area and continues to the upper jugular chin area just below the ears. If a benign mass is large enough, it may be visible and a potential source of discomfort. The majority of non-cancerous neck masses aren’t big enough to cause any noticeable symptoms. However, some masses may produce symptoms that include:
Persistent irritation or discomfort
A feeling of a lump in the throat
Numbness or similar sensations if nerves are affected
Diagnosing Benign Neck Masses
It’s not possible to determine if a neck mass is benign with a visual examination alone. Evaluation of a mass usually includes a physical examination and fine-needle aspiration or a biopsy to collect a tissue sample for testing. Image tests, such as a contrast-enhanced CT scan, may also be done to view other neck tissues and identify possible vascular injuries that may be the source of mass. Medical history is also considered since this information can help determine if further evaluation is necessary. For instance, a patient who is a long-term smoker over the age of 40 is statistically more likely to have a neck mass that’s malignant.
If a benign neck mass is small or not causing any symptoms, treatment may only involve observation. With masses that are affecting blood vessels, nerves, or other structures in the neck, surgery may be recommended. Smaller growths can usually be treated with endoscopic techniques that involve tube-like instruments and smaller incisions. For larger non-cancerous neck masses, traditional open surgery may be performed if removal is necessary.
The management of a benign neck mass will depend on where it’s located, how big it is, and whether or not it’s affecting nearby structures. Oftentimes, the cause of a benign mass in the neck or throat area is unknown. Contributing factors may include genetics, exposure to certain substances, infection, stress, and diet. Some masses are caused by sudden trauma that damages tissues and creates a hematoma. While most neck masses are benign, it shouldn’t be assumed that an unusual growth or irregularity is non-cancerous.