The mass in your neck may indicate a serious medical problem. It does not mean you have cancer, but it does mean you need more evaluation to make a diagnosis. Common symptoms in patients with a neck mass at increased risk for malignancy include:
Your provider will ask about medical history and examine your head and neck. Your provider may order tests or refer you to a specialist.
Your provider will want to make sure you have a thorough evaluation, testing and follow-up within a short period of time. It is important you discuss this timeline with your provider and make sure there is a plan for follow-up after testing. It is important for you to follow this neck mass until it goes away or until you have a diagnosis.
The provider will look in your mouth and throat with a bright light. If you wear dentures, you will need to remove them. The provider may use gauze to hold your tongue and feel the surfaces of the mouth, tongue, tonsils or the back of your tongue.
The provider may use a small mirror in your mouth to see the voice box. If a scope is needed, the provider may first numb the nose and throat. The provider will then place a small tube in your nose and use a camera to examine your throat. You may have mild discomfort.
A CT scan is a series of X-rays that give more detail than regular X-rays. CT scan pictures show soft tissue and bones. The CT machine looks like a large donut that your head, neck and chest will go through. You will need an IV—a needle inserted into a vein—for contrast to enhance the pictures. Risks include:
An MRI scan creates pictures of the soft tissue but not the bones. An MRI does not uses radiation; it uses very strong magnets. The MRI machine looks like a narrow tube that your head neck, and chest will go inside. You will need an IV for contrast to enhance the pictures. If you have any metal or implants in your body, you may not be able to have an MRI. You must discuss this with your provider. Risks include:
Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) uses a small needle stuck into the mass to get a tissue sample. Risks include:
Pynnonen, MA, Gillespie, MB, Rosenfeld RM, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline: Evaluation of the Neck Mass in Adult. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017; 157(2 Suppl):S1-S30.