Most neck masses in children represent a benign condition. Pediatric neck masses may present themselves at birth (congenital), in infancy, or in the childhood or teen years. The most common neck mass in a child is an enlarged lymph node(s).
Because lymph nodes help to fight infection, they will often swell up after an upper respiratory infection (common cold). Usually, these "swollen glands" will shrink down as the infection resolves. On occasion, the enlarged lymph node(s) can become an abscess (collection of pus) which requires intravenous antibiotics and surgery.
Neck masses may be solid or cystic. A cyst is a mass filled with fluid. Cysts are the second most common pediatric neck mass. The many types of pediatric neck cysts include: branchial cleft cysts/sinus tracts, thyroglossal duct cysts, pre-auricular cysts, epidermoid cysts, dermoid cysts, and ranulas. Some of these cysts may even have a draining dimple or tract or pit noted in the skin or in the throat connected to the cyst. Benign neck cysts are usually successfully treated with surgery.
Rarely, a pediatric neck mass is malignant (cancerous). A malignant neck mass will usually require surgical removal, and may need additional treatment such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy. This would be treated in a team approach with other specialists such as a Radiation Oncologist or a Medical Oncologist.