mass or bump in my throat

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, an estimated 49,750 Americans will be diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer, which affects the back of the mouth or the throat. Sadly, of those newly diagnosed, only 57 percent will be alive in five years. 


Early detection and diagnosis

One of the first signs of cancer is a mass located in the neck. As with other cancers, early detection is vital, and your ear, nose and throat doctor is an important part of accurately discovering and diagnosing any lumps or masses.  While a mass doesn’t necessarily mean that you have cancer, there has been a rise of HPV-related head and neck cancers over the last several years. If you find a neck mass, you should check with a local ENT at Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose and Throat to receive an accurate diagnosis. Statistics show that many patients with neck masses have a delay from discovery to diagnosis of three to six months. While this rate is better than it was 40 years ago (when it took five to six months), Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose and Throat believes that patients should get the diagnosis and evaluation they need as soon as possible so they may begin treatment in case the neck mass is cancerous. We do so by following the most recent clinical guidelines and best practices from the American Academy of Otolaryngology. 


Common causes of neck masses

While neck masses are fairly common in adults, it’s often difficult to precisely determine the underlying cause.  Some of the common causes of masses or lumps in the neck include: 

  • Viral infections
  • Tooth infections
  • Conditions such as strep throat or mumps
  • A goiter, which is an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland
  • A tumor, which may be either cancerous or benign (noncancerous) 

In addition, it’s important to remember that a neck mass can be the result of a cancer that has spread from somewhere else in the body. 

Different types of neck cancers

There are many different types of head and neck cancers. Some of them include:

  • Oropharyngeal (or-oh-FAIR-in-GEE-uhl) cancer – This type of cancer begins in the throat or in the back of the mouth.
  • Nasopharyngeal (nay-zoh-FAIR-in-GEE-uhl) cancer – This type of cancer is found in the upper part of the throat located behind the nose. 
  • Laryngeal (lair-in-GEE-uhl) cancer – This begins in the voice box or larynx.
  • Hypopharyngeal (hi-po-FAIR-in-GEE-uhl) cancer – This type of cancer is found in the lower part of the throat near and behind the voice box. 


Symptoms that could indicate cancer

While not all neck masses are cancerous, you may be at an increased risk for malignancy if you experience the following symptoms: [Link to American Academy of Otolaryngology at: 

  • Voice changes
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Difficulty hearing on the same side as the mass
  • A mass lasting longer than two to three weeks
  • Ear pain on the same side as the neck mass
  • Sore throat
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever higher than 101 degrees 


If you have a mass in your neck, be prepared to answer these questions:

How long have you had the mass in your neck?
Your doctor will also like to know if it has grown larger or changed over the course of time.

Have you had a recent illness?
Sometimes throat infections or even dental issues can cause neck masses.

Do you have a family history of throat and neck cancer?
There’s a genetic aspect to cancer. In addition, you should let your doctor know if you’ve had any relatives who have had any type of cancer.

Do you currently smoke or do you have a history of smoking?
This can be a risk factor for cancer. Your doctor may also ask how much alcohol you consume.

Do you have any other sores on your scalp, neck or face? 

Do you have any other sore places in your mouth, on your tongue or in your throat?

As always, your Raleigh Capitol ENT physician will ask about your medical history. It’s always a good idea to bring a list of any medications you are on, including the dosages. You should also keep a list of any allergic reactions you’ve had to medications. Finally, let us know if you have chronic medical issues such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

If you feel a mass in your neck, it’s important that you schedule an appointment with one of the ENT doctors at Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose and Throat as soon as possible. 

If you’d like some additional information, following is a link you may find useful:

Frequently Asked Questions for Adults with a Neck Mass 

Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose, and Throat is the area's premiere physician-owned ENT practice with six convenient locations throughout Wake County. Our board-certified physicians have extensive experience in treating both common and complex cases to help adults and children alike. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us.


American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. “Neck Mass in Adults: Guideline for Evaluation Provides Framework for Timely Diagnosis.” Online. 

American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery “Frequently Asked Questions for Adults with a Neck Mass.” Online.  

American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.  “Clinical Practice Guideline: Evaluation of the Neck Mass in Adults (Plain Language Summary)” Online. 

American Cancer Society. “Head and Neck Cancer.” Online.

Oral Cancer Foundation. “Oral Cancer Foundation.”