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What is a Neck Cyst?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A neck cyst is a sac-like structure located on the neck that is filled with liquid, gaseous, or solid materials. They can range in size from microscopic to very large in nature. In many cases, a neck cyst may be confused with cancer, but unlike cancerous lumps, cysts are very rarely cause for alarm and are often require little or no treatment.

There are various causes for a cyst in the neck, including blockages in normal ducts, cell abnormalities, inflammatory diseases, or infection. Unlike cancerous lumps, cysts generally do not grow quickly nor do they spread to other areas of the body. When feeling for a cyst or lump, there are ways to differentiate between a cancerous tumor and non-cancerous cyst. Cysts are generally smoother in shape and can be moved beneath the skin. Cancer often has undefined edges and is very hard and immobile.

Patients should not try and self-diagnose a cyst as benign. Any lumps in the neck should be checked by a licensed physician. In most cases, cancer will not be suspected. Other times a biopsy may be ordered to determine if the cyst is cancerous. Cancerous cysts are called tumors, and require immediate medical care.

In most cases a neck cyst will not need treatment. The patient may be advised to check the area from time to time in order to ensure the cyst is not growing. If the cyst is very large and unsightly or is affecting another bodily system or displacing veins or arteries in the neck, surgery may be required to remove the lump. Sometimes a cyst may be the sign of an underlying medical condition, such as a thyroid problem. In this case, the treatment will aim to cure or treat the condition rather than the cyst directly.

Often, a cyst will have no noticeable symptoms other than a lump on the neck. In some cases this lump may be painful or tender to the touch. When cysts become painful, the patient is advised to consult a doctor to discover the underlying cause or to remove the cyst. Sometimes the cyst will be lanced, or cut open, to allow fluid to drain in order to relieve pressure. If the area is filled with pus rather than liquid, though, this is not considered a cyst but an abscess, which is also common on the back of the neck.

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Discussion Comments
By anon997288 — On Dec 08, 2016

I had my thyroid duct removed 20 years ago and I have a cyst that has come up where my scar is. I had an ultrasound done and they said it was a cyst, How will they remove it?

By anon982182 — On Dec 17, 2014

I have a pinky sized hard cyst on the back of my neck, right on my spine. It is painful and oozes liquid at times when I pick at it. At other times it bleeds a lot. I use alcohol to try and get rid of it, but it only serves to make it smaller once the scab has been peeled off, but then grows to the pinky size again. Should I be concerned? cancer is common in my family on my mothers side.

By anon353743 — On Nov 02, 2013

About eight years ago, I found a cyst about the size of a dime on the back of my shoulder near my neck. My dermatologist said ignore it, that the cysts are rarely cancerous. About a year later, when I was on vacation, it suddenly swelled to the size of a golf ball. Unfortunately, it was located where my bra strap scraped up against it constantly, so it ruptured and oozed liquid for two days, and then it was gone for good.

Last year, I developed a new cyst at the front and center of my neck. It was tiny and looked like a blackhead pimple, except it didn't go away for a month. Since my dermatologist doesn't seem to like removing cysts, I asked my general practitioner to remove it. He did so right in his office after giving me a shot of local anesthetic.

Now, I've just found another cyst on the back of my neck, right on my hairline. I think I'm going to ask my general practitioner to cut this one out too. I'd rather have it gone than be distracted by it. But I have to wonder what is it about the neck area that invites so many cysts?

By anon332659 — On Apr 30, 2013

I have had a fluid filled cyst on the left side of my neck for the better part of 13 years. I was worried at first and got it checked out by a CT scan and a specialist. The specialist explained it to me that when I was born, I had a fold in my neck muscle. This being the case, I did not see signs of this until my early twenties. My first question to the doctor (specialist) was, "is it cancer"? His reply? (Very cool doctor, by the way.) "If it was cancer, you would be dead already". We both laughed in spite of me being lightheaded from the news.

Since then (13 years ago) I have lived with this small child growing from my neck. I can't do much about it until I have insurance to help foot the bill. I have been quoted between 24 to 35 thousand to do the surgery, considering it is around my carotid artery. Yeah, nice huh?

By anon267992 — On May 12, 2012

I am very tense now. I have a lump of 1.5 cm on the left side of my neck. It can be moved beneath the skin, just like you said, and is painless. What should I do? I am 14 and it isn't affecting me so much, just the appearance.

By anon126235 — On Nov 12, 2010

I'm not a medical professional and this article was written solely for information purposes. It was not intended as a substitute for the care of a doctor. This is true of any Internet article. Additionally, it would impossible to diagnose a lump over the Internet.

Therefore, I would advise you to see a doctor who can check your lump. Any growth should be investigated further, as there is simply no way to know if it's cancerous or something benign. More than likely it is benign. It could be a swollen node due to infection, allergies, or even a pimple. It may be a cyst.

However, if it were cancer, that is not something you want to mess around with. Some forms of cancer can grow quickly and early diagnosis is vital. Again, the chances that it is cancer is slim, but you should have any unusual lump checked out.

By galen84basc — On Nov 11, 2010

I have recently started to feel a lump on the side of my neck, and I'm starting to wonder if it could be a neck cyst. I've looked at some neck cyst pictures, and it kind of looks like mine, but I can't really move it around under the skin like you said I should be able to in the article.

Do you think that I have a neck cyst, or that I should get my neck lump checked out by a doctor? If the chances are that it's not serious, then I'll probably just pass until it gets bigger, but what do you think I should do?

By pharmchick78 — On Nov 11, 2010

I'm very glad that you urged people not to try and diagnose a neck cyst as being benign on their own. The difference between cancer and a cyst can be hard even for experienced doctors to tell without an exploratory procedure, so deciding that you're OK after googling a few neck cyst pictures just doesn't cut it.

It would be like trying to diagnose sinus cancer by looking at what comes out on a tissue when you blow your nose.

So if you do end up getting any kind of lump on your neck, seriously, talk to your doctor. Even if you just have a cyst on a neck muscle and not a parotid tumor, you'll be really glad to know what's going on, and you'll be able to get it sorted out and move on with your life as soon as possible.

So remember, any cyst possibilities in the neck area, be sure to see your doctor ASAP. It's simply not worth risking your health over.

By closerfan12 — On Nov 11, 2010

Ooh, the whole thought of cysts just kind of makes my skin crawl. I have thankfully never had any problems like that, but my brother had a neck lump that turned out to be a lateral neck cyst, and I have to say, it was just kind of scary to even look at.

I can never understand those people you hear about who live with cysts in the side of their neck for years on end -- if the uncomfortability doesn't get to you, then you would certainly think that having everybody looking at your neck all the time would.

I know I could never do it. I am a total wimp when it comes to stuff like that -- whenever I see something off in my body, I always want to get rid of it ASAP! I guess some people just feel differently...

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