Neck masses are unusual lumps on the neck. While neck masses can be caused by infection or benign (noncancerous) tumors, the most common cause of neck mass for an adult is cancer. Cancerous neck masses can occur when cancer cells grow uncontrollably, causing a tumor that can impede normal bodily functions and can spread to other body parts. Cancers of the neck include:

  • Head and neck squamous cell cancer (HNSCC)
  • Lymphoma (lymph node cancer)
  • Thyroid and parathyroid cancer
  • Salivary gland cancer
  • Skin cancers of the head and neck
  • Voice box cancer
  • Cancer that has spread from other parts of the body, also known as metastatic cancer

Ear Nose Throat specialty national ranking badgeNeck Mass at UK Markey Cancer Center

Neck masses should be checked by a healthcare provider who is an expert in diagnosing problems of the ear, nose and throat. Your doctor may send you to an ear, nose and throat specialist, also known as an ENT or otolaryngologist, if you have a neck lump that is worrisome or that was thought to be caused by bacterial infection but did not respond to antibiotics.

Markey’s ENT specialists are experts at diagnosing and treating neck masses. We have advanced diagnostic tools, allowing you to get a biopsy or ultrasound conveniently in our office. We can quickly evaluate you and give you a diagnosis for your peace of mind.

Using advanced technology and leading-edge medical and surgical interventions, the neck mass team provides advanced and timely diagnosis and individualized, ongoing care for patients. Each patient is cared for by a team of specialists who meet regularly to discuss individual patient cases and treatment plans. This multidisciplinary team will work with you and your doctor to coordinate a care plan designed to offer the best outcomes.

Markey has provided state-of-the-art cancer care for more than 30 years, and we are proud to be the only cancer center in Kentucky designated by the National Cancer Institute. Since 2017, Markey Cancer Center has been nationally recognized as a top 50 cancer center by U.S. News & World Report.

Neck lumps vary in size, shape and location. They may be hard or soft, and some are painful, while others are not. For many people, the neck mass itself is the only symptom. However, neck masses can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Ear pain or difficulty hearing, especially if on the same side as the mass
  • Fever over 101 F
  • Skin changes
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Unexplained weight changes
  • Voice changes such as hoarseness

The American Cancer Society reports that neck mass survival rates vary based on whether the mass is malignant or benign, and the site and stage of the cancer. Ask your medical provider about your survival rate for your specific type of cancer and staging.

You can lower your risk of cancer by taking steps to build a healthy lifestyle. Here are some ways you can lower your risk for this disease, as well as improve your overall basic health:

  • Avoid using tobacco products. Tobacco has been tied to multiple cancers, and it is responsible for 90 percent of lung cancer deaths.
  • Stay physically active. Your physical activity is related to risk for colon and breast cancer. Excess weight gained from inactivity increases the risk of multiple cancers.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. It is important to be mindful of how much alcohol you drink. Alcohol intake, even in moderate amounts, can increase the risk for colon, breast, esophageal and oropharyngeal cancer.
  • Learn about screenings. Your primary care doctor can recommend appropriate cancer screenings based on your age, personal risk and family history.
  • Get the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine if you are eligible. HPV infection is sexually transmitted and has been associated with development of certain cancers of the mouth, throat, genitals, cervix and anus. The HPV vaccine is recommended for people ages 11-26, preferably before becoming sexually active and being exposed to HPV, but may be appropriate for some individuals up to age 45.
  • Advanced age for most neck masses, although they can occur in younger people
  • Ancestry (more common in African American or Caucasian races)
  • Alcohol use exceeding one drink per day
  • Certain infections:
    • HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually-transmitted virus
    • Epstein Barr virus, the virus that causes mononucleosis
    • HIV increases lymphoma risk
    • Human T-cell lymphotropic virus increases lymphoma risk
  • Combination of both tobacco and alcohol use (multiplies the risk of developing certain neck masses)
  • Family history of neck masses
  • Male gender
  • Obesity
  • Personal history of previous cancers of the head and neck
  • Poor nutrition, specifically diets that are low in iodine and vegetable intake or high in animal fat
  • Presence of certain genetic syndromes
  • Radiation exposure (medical or environmental)
  • Tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • UV light exposure from sunlight
  • Possibly certain occupational exposures or jobs including:
    • Exposure to certain metals, such as nickel alloy dust
    • Exposure to certain minerals, such as silica dust
    • Asbestos miners
    • Plumbers
    • Metal workers
    • Woodworkers
    • Construction workers
    • Textile industry workers
    • Petroleum industry workers
    • Rubber manufacturers
    • Landscapers who use weed-killing agents or insecticides
  • For your first visit, you will be directed to the head, neck and respiratory clinic in the Ben F. Roach Cancer Care Facility.
  • You can register at the front desk or registration area, where a Markey team member will help guide you through your appointment.
  • Several parking options are available to patients of Markey Cancer Center.
  • Please remember to bring your patient packet with the completed forms. These items will help your doctor learn more about your case and determine the best plan for your care.
  • To meet our patient needs, UK HealthCare accepts many forms of insurance.

Clinical trials are research studies aimed at evaluating medical, surgical or behavioral interventions to determine if a new treatment is safe and effective. At Markey, we are advancing cancer care and research to prevent, detect and treat one patient at a time. As a patient at Markey, you have a team of people looking at your individual case, applying the most recent cancer knowledge to give you the best chance of survival.

Markey has more open clinical trials than any other cancer center in the region, giving you access to some of the most advanced options available. Learn more about ongoing clinical trials for head and neck cancer below.

Search Our Ongoing Clinical Trials for Head and Neck Cancers

NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center - A Cancer Center Designated by the National Cancer Institute

Markey Cancer Center is designated by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center – a distinction that recognizes our commitment to accelerating precision cancer research and care to patients. We are the first and only NCI-Comprehensive Cancer Center in Kentucky, and one of 57 in the nation.