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Evaluation of a neck mass

Daniel G Deschler, MD, FACS
Section Editor
Marvin P Fried, MD, FACS
Deputy Editor
Wenliang Chen, MD, PhD


A new neck mass is a relatively common head and neck problem in patients presenting to physicians. There often are no associated symptoms, other than the recognition of a "new lump" noted incidentally on palpation while grooming or noticed by another individual.

Evaluation of the neck mass must be approached in a thorough and disciplined manner. The mass may be the only manifestation of a serious and potentially malignant pathology, especially in the adult population.

The differential diagnosis in a patient presenting with a neck mass is often extensive and will vary with the age of the patient at presentation. A thorough history and physical examination are essential steps in the evaluation [1,2]. This will narrow the diagnostic possibilities and help determine the appropriate next diagnostic steps, as outlined in an algorithm (algorithm 1).

The diagnostic approach to evaluation of a neck mass will be reviewed here. The differential diagnosis is discussed separately. (See "Differential diagnosis of a neck mass".)


A thorough patient history will often narrow the differential diagnosis of a neck mass.

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Literature review current through: Sep 2017. | This topic last updated: May 25, 2017.
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