Masses of the head and neck can be malignant or benign. It is important to have masses evaluated right away so that if they are dangerous, treatment can start early. There are three major categories of head and neck masses: congenital, inflammatory and neoplastic.
Congenital masses are most common in children, but can be present in adults. These are commonly cysts, thymic rests or dermoids. They are typically benign, slow-growing and painless. Congenital masses generally require surgery for removal.
Bacterial and viral infections can cause neck masses – swollen lymph nodes being the most common form. These are benign and will go away on their own. Other infections like tuberculosis can cause neck masses, which may require antibiotics and other medicines to treat.
Neoplastic masses can be benign, such as lipomas, hemangiomas, neuromas and fibromas. These are non-invasive and do not usually affect sensory or motor skills. Thyroid cancer, mucosal cancer and metastatic disease are all examples of malignant masses; these are very serious and require immediate treatment. Your doctor will likely choose to surgically remove all neoplastic masses to eliminate risk of cancer or infection.
Neck masses can originate from lymph nodes, the thyroid or salivary glands. Rarely they can arise from bone, cartilage, muscles, veins or nerves. The location and size of the mass as well as the health and age of the patient can help the doctor identify the mass’s origin. If a physical exam does not provide an obvious answer, an MRI or biopsy may be necessary.
There are two types of throat cancer: pharyngeal and laryngeal. Pharyngeal cancer forms on your pharynx (breathing and digestive tube) and laryngeal cancer forms on your larynx (voice box). Symptoms of throat cancer include coughing up blood, trouble swallowing and lumps on the throat felt outside the skin. There are several treatment options, depending on the size and prevalence of cancerous tumors. Surgery can be performed to remove small tumors. Radiation therapy can be used alone or after surgery to destroy malignant cancer cells. For large tumors or tumors that have spread to other organs and tissues, chemotherapy is the best treatment option.