Dr Husam Wassati

Neck Lumps, Causes & Symptoms

November 24, 2022, 03:11 Head and Neck, Ultrasound

There are many different types of neck lumps, each with its own causes and symptoms. Most are harmless and will go away on their own, while others may require follow-up testing and treatment.

Securing an accurate diagnosis is paramount, and many of the most common conditions can be diagnosed through a safe and non-invasive ultrasound.

If you would like to schedule a neck ultrasound appointment or have any questions, our team would be more than happy to assist. Visit our private neck ultrasound page to learn more about our services.

Causes of neck lumps

An enlarged or swollen lymph node is one of the most common causes of a neck lump. Lymph nodes contain cells that help the body fight infection, so they may grow when you become sick.

Conditions that can lead to enlarged lymph nodes include ear and sinus infections, dental issues, strep throat, and tonsillitis.

Neck lumps can also be caused by cancer, autoimmune diseases, and conditions impacting the thyroid gland. In some cases, injury can result in a lump in the neck muscles.

Types of neck lumps and their symptoms

Neck lumps can be hard or soft to the touch and tender or painless. Some neck lumps are located directly under the skin, and others come from growth in the tissues and organs within the neck, such as the lymph nodes, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, neck muscles, voice box, and trachea.

Swollen lymph nodes

Lymph nodes can become swollen for many different reasons, including illness, medications, stress, infection, autoimmune disease, and cancer. They might be painless or tender to the touch. Generally, lymph nodes become swollen when they reach 1 to 2 cm in size.


Tonsillitis is a bacterial or viral infection of the tonsil lymph nodes. It is typically painful and can result in symptoms including a fever, difficulty swallowing, headaches, and swollen tonsils.

Hodgkin lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma is cancer that affects a part of the immune system called the lymphatic system. As the disease progresses, the body is unable to effectively fight infection. In addition to swollen lymph nodes in the neck, symptoms include fever, chills, fatigue, and unexpected weight loss.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is another cancer of the lymphatic system. It occurs when a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte grows abnormally. Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and groin, fever, chest pain, and stomach pain.

Infectious mononucleosis

Infectious mononucleosis – also called glandular fever – is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and typically occurs in teenagers and young adults.

Symptoms can last for two months and include fever, sore throat, headache, swollen lymph glands, fatigue, and aching muscles.


A lipoma is a fatty lump that grows slowly between the skin and an underlying layer of muscle. Soft to the touch and easily movable, they typically occur in the neck, back, abdomen, arms, and thighs. Lipomas are usually harmless and pain-free but may cause discomfort if they grow into the nerves.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most frequently diagnosed skin cancer. It occurs when squamous cells grow very rapidly, forming a raised bump that becomes larger over time. The growth may bleed easily and struggle to heal or heals readily but returns quickly.

Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is a rare cancer that affects the thyroid, a small endocrine gland at the base of the neck. It accounts for less than 1 per cent of all cancer incidences in the UK. Symptoms include a lump in the throat, pain in the neck, a cough, and difficulty swallowing.

Thyroid nodules

Thyroid nodules are lumps that develop in the thyroid gland. They can be solid or filled with fluid and are classified as hot, warm, or cold.

In most cases, thyroid nodules are not a cause for concern but may be a sign of an autoimmune disease or, rarely, cancer.

Symptoms include a sore throat or neck, a swollen thyroid gland, and a cough.


A goitre develops when the thyroid gland grows abnormally. It can be harmless or connected to an increase or decrease in thyroid hormone. As the goitre grows, symptoms can include difficulty breathing and swallowing, a cough, and a hoarse voice.

Throat cancer

As throat cancer is an umbrella term, it refers to cancers affecting the vocal cords, voice box, tonsils, oropharynx, and other parts of the throat.

Throat cancers more commonly occur in people with a history of excessive alcohol use or smoking or exposure to asbestos.

Symptoms depend on the type of cancer but might include a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, difficulty swallowing, changes to the voice, and unintended weight loss.

How ultrasound can help with Neck Lump diagnosis

If you have a lump in your neck, an ultrasound of the neck is one of the first diagnostic tools you can use to determine the cause and next steps.

By capturing images of the lump and surrounding body parts, ultrasounds for neck lumps can characterise swollen or enlarged lymph nodes, vascular structures, salivary glands, and thyroid nodules.

Ultrasound findings can determine the size and nature of many neck lumps and may be enough to provide an accurate diagnosis.

However, a neck ultrasound alone may not be adequate to determine whether a neck lump is cancerous or non-cancerous.

What to expect from your ultrasound for neck lumps

neck ultrasound is a fast, non-invasive, and risk-free diagnostic tool. Unlike X-rays, they do not use radiation. Instead, ultrasounds leverage sound waves to capture images of the organs and systems within the body.

Ultrasounds do not require special preparation or downtime, and you can return to your normal activities after your appointment.

During the ultrasound, your specialist will ask you to remove any clothing obscuring your neck and throat area – this includes scarves and necklaces. You will then lie on the examination table with your throat exposed.

Your technician will apply a cool gel to the neck area – this helps sound waves travel into your body.

Then, they will gently press a wand-like device to your neck and throat. Black and white images of the inside of your neck will appear on a monitor.

When the technician has captured the required images, they will carefully remove the leftover gel.

The process does not take long, and you should not experience any pain or discomfort. If you do, let your doctor know right away.

Schedule your neck ultrasound

At Harley Street Ultrasound, we understand that you want your results as quickly as possible.

When you choose us for your neck ultrasound, we use the latest in ultrasound technology to provide you with your scans on the same day as your appointment.

You can access your ultrasound scans securely from your smartphone, computer, or any other internet-connected device, giving you peace of mind sooner.

If you are ready to get to the bottom of your neck lump, schedule your neck ultrasound today. Our dedicated and experienced team is ready to assist you on your health journey.



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