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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.