A number of masses may develop in your child’s head or neck; these masses may also be called growths, tumors, lumps or bumps. While some head and neck masses are cancerous, many are not. It is important to see a physician if any abnormal bump or lump persists for more than three weeks. If a cancer is present, early detection provides the highest chance of successful treatment.
What Causes Neck Masses?
There are numerous causes of head and neck masses:
Enlargement of lymph nodes
This is the most common cause of new neck masses. Lymph nodes, which are part of the immune system, can enlarge when the body rallies to fight an infection. When the infection recedes, lymph swelling subsides as well.
Benign masses do not spread to surrounding tissue and are not cancerous. Nevertheless, benign masses can be serious if they impact nerves or exert pressure in the head and neck, and are often removed surgically. These include cysts, thyroid masses, vascular masses, salivary gland masses and others.
When head and neck masses are malignant they can spread to surrounding tissue or to other parts of the body.
Primary tumors can originate in the neck, including the thyroid, throat, larynx or salivary gland. Primary tumors of the head and neck typically spread to the lymph nodes in the neck.
Children who have been exposed to radiation, either during medical treatments or from nuclear radiation sources, are at considerable risk for thyroid cancer and should be screened yearly.
Symptoms of Head & Neck Masses
You should see your physician if your child experiences any of the following symptoms:
- Lump in the neck persisting for more than three weeks, especially if it is not associated with a cold, flu or other infection.
- Change in their voice including hoarseness that persists more than two weeks.
- Growth in the mouth.
- Swollen tongue.
- Blood in the saliva or phlegm.
- Swallowing problems.
- Persistent ear pain or ear pain while swallowing – may be a symptom of infection or a growth in the throat.
- Unexplained weight loss.
Treatment for Head & Neck Masses
A simple examination of some masses may allow a physician to determine their cause based on location, size and consistency. In other cases, additional tests may be required. These tests include:
- MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging can clearly show tumors near bones, smaller tumors and brainstem masses. It uses a magnetic field rather than x-ray radiation.
- CT Scan: Computed Tomography combines a sophisticated x-ray with computer technology. It is less accurate than an MRI but can help locate tumors or determine their types, detect swelling or bleeding and evaluate the effects of treatments. Injections of an iodine dye contrast material may be used to enhance the visibility of abnormal tissue during CT scans.
- PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and SPECT (Single Photon Emission Tomography): are useful after diagnosis to help determine the grade of a tumor or to distinguish between cancerous and scar tissue. They involve injections with a radioactive tracer.
- Biopsy: A sample of tissue is taken and examined under a microscope to determine if it is malignant.
Treatments are determined by the cause of the mass. Benign neck cysts and masses are usually removed by surgical excision. Head and neck cancers may be treated by some combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery, depending on their nature.
Call Comprehensive ENT at (804) 228-4480 for more information or to schedule an appointment.