The differential diagnosis of a mass in the neck is broad, extensive, and includes both serious and benign etiologies. Accurate diagnosis of a neck mass is critical.
It is helpful to consider the differential diagnosis in three broad categories:
The patient's history and physical examination will often allow designation of the neck mass into one of these three categories. However, particularly in adult patients, the potential for malignancy in any neck mass should be adequately excluded before a benign diagnosis is established.
This topic aims to present a framework for the differential diagnosis of a mass in the neck. Approach to patient evaluation is discussed separately. (See "Evaluation of a neck mass".)