There are many causes of swelling in the neck. Most commonly encountered are enlarged lymph nodes or "glands" which are "reactive" to upper respiratory tract infection. Even once infection has subsided, the enlarged lymph nodes can persist, especially in children. Head and neck cancer can also spread to lymph nodes, and therefore this finding needs to be taken seriously especially in a smoker or drinker. Swellings can also be caused by growths within the skin, such as sebaceous cysts, thyroid swellings and salivary gland swellings.
Assessment will include a full ENT examination which may include fibre optic examination of the upper aero-digestive tract. As cancer of the head and neck is relatively rare, it is often possible to provide patients with appropriate reassurance at their first attendance, but additional investigations are sometimes required.