March 1, 2024
February 27, 2024

What Should You Do About a Sudden Lump Between Your Neck and Shoulder?

Reviewed By:
What Should You Do About a Sudden Lump Between Your Neck and Shoulder?

The sudden appearance of a lump between your neck and shoulder can be alarming. However, it’s important to understand potential causes and when to seek medical advice.

Such lumps can be due to various reasons, including benign growths like lipomas, cysts, lymph nodes, and trauma. While not all lumps are cancerous, a healthcare professional should evaluate the appearance of new lumps and sudden changes.

Here, we’ll explore the possible causes of a sudden lump between the neck and shoulder, including how to assess the lump's characteristics and, if necessary, further tests that can help determine its nature.

Understanding the significance of these lumps and seeking timely medical consultation is crucial for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

Common Causes of a Sudden Lump Between Your Neck and Shoulder

Sudden lump between neck and shoulder: doctor examining a patient

When encountering a sudden lump between the neck and shoulder, it's crucial to consider common causes such as swollen lymph nodes, cysts like sebaceous or epidermoid cysts, and benign tumors like lipomas. 

Lymph nodes, which are integral to the immune system, often swell in response to infection or, in rare cases, lymphoma (a type of blood cancer). Cysts are fluid-filled sacs arising from hair follicles or skin glands, while lipomas are soft tissue growths. These conditions are usually benign. However, a persistent or changing lump warrants medical advice.


Lumps that result from infections are typically caused by the body's immune response to a pathogen, such as bacteria or viruses. These lumps, often called abscesses, are filled with pus, a mixture of white blood cells, dead tissue, and bacteria or other foreign substances. 

Abscesses can feel tender and warm, and may appear red and swollen. Infections can also lead to swollen lymph nodes, which are lumps that can be felt under the skin, particularly in areas like the neck, armpits, and groin. It's important to treat these infectious lumps promptly to prevent the spread of infection and to alleviate discomfort.


Nodules may refer to lumps from distinct conditions originating with the thyroid or rheumatoid disorders such as lupus. Thyroid nodules are lumps that commonly form within the thyroid gland in the neck. While most are benign and don't cause symptoms, some can lead to hormonal imbalances or indicate thyroid cancer symptoms

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), in particular, can cause the formation of nodules. These nodules, often called lupus pernio or rheumatoid nodules, typically develop in patients with more severe disease. They are usually found in areas of frequent mechanical stress, like the elbows or fingers. These nodules can indicate the disease's activity and severity, making it important for those with lupus to seek medical evaluation if they notice such a growth.


Trauma can be a reason for the sudden appearance of a lump between the neck and shoulder. When the area experiences an impact or injury, it can lead to the formation of a hematoma, a collection of blood outside of blood vessels, causing a lump. 

This lump may initially be soft and tender, becoming firmer as the blood clots. It's essential to monitor such lumps for changes in size, color, and pain level. In some cases, trauma might also lead to muscle knots or swelling in the soft tissue, presenting as a lump. If the lump doesn't resolve or worsens, it's best to seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and treatment.


Ganglion cysts are filled with jelly-like fluid and vary in size. They are usually round or oval and might feel firm or spongy. These types of cysts can form at the back of the neck and around joints near the shoulder joint or shoulder blade. They are known to cause pain, especially if they press on a nerve, and their size can fluctuate. They often occur without a known cause, but repetitive strain or injury might play a role. Treatment options range from observation to aspiration (draining the cyst) or surgery, depending on the size, pain, and interference with joint movement.

Another type of cyst is a sebaceous cyst, which forms from blocked hair follicles or skin conditions. An abscess is a collection of pus due to a bacterial infection that can also present as a lump. 

For lumps that are hard, immovable, or accompanied by symptoms like unintentional weight loss, night sweats, or difficulty swallowing, a more serious concern, like cancerous lumps, could be indicated. These symptoms necessitate immediate medical advice. Learn more about cysts vs. tumors


Lipomas are non-cancerous tumors composed of soft tissue. They typically manifest as a lump beneath the skin and are usually painless, soft, and movable when touched. Lipomas are the most common form of soft tissue tumor and can appear anywhere on the body, including between the neck and shoulder. 

Lipomas are generally slow-growing and may not require treatment unless they become bothersome or painful. In such cases, options like surgical removal or liposuction can be considered. It's important to note that while lipomas are benign, any new lump should be evaluated by a doctor to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Swollen Lymph Nodes

Sudden lump between neck and shoulder: man touching his neck

An inflamed or swollen lymph node can often be the reason for a sudden lump between the neck and shoulder. Since lymph nodes are part of the immune system, they can become enlarged due to infections or, in rare cases, certain types of cancer like lymphoma or leukemia. 

Swollen lymph nodes are generally a sign that your body is fighting off an infection, with additional symptoms like sore throat, fever, and other signs of infection. In cases where lymph nodes remain enlarged without a clear cause or are hard and immovable with lymph node cancer symptoms like weight loss and night sweats, it's crucial to seek medical advice to rule out serious underlying conditions. 

Cancerous Lumps 

Cancerous lumps between the neck and shoulder, excluding swollen lymph nodes, can arise from various tissues in this region. These lumps are often hard, immovable, and might grow rapidly. Unlike benign lumps like lipomas, cancerous lumps are typically more rigid and fixed to the underlying structures. They might not cause pain initially, which can delay diagnosis. 

The presence of a cancerous lump could indicate malignancies in the soft tissues, such as in skin cancer or cancer of deeper structures like the thyroid gland or salivary glands. A healthcare professional should evaluate any persistent or unusual lump to provide an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

When to Seek Medical Attention for a Sudden Lump Between Neck and Shoulder

Knowing when to worry about a lump under the skin is key. While many lumps are benign, it's important to know the signs that may indicate a more serious condition. Always seek medical attention if the lump persists, grows rapidly, is hard or immovable, or if it's accompanied by pain, fever, or other ongoing symptoms like unexplained weight loss, difficulty swallowing, or night sweats. 

A healthcare provider may use tests like X-rays, CT scans, or a biopsy, especially if there's suspicion of a cancerous lump, including conditions like sarcoma, carcinoma, or thyroid cancer. 

Treatment options vary, from simple compresses and anti-inflammatory medications for minor conditions to surgical removal or specialized treatments for cancerous growths. Understanding the type of lump — whether it's a hard lump, a cystic growth near the collarbone, or a nodule related to the thyroid gland — is essential in determining the appropriate course of action.

Early Detection Is Key

Sudden lump between neck and shoulder: therapist examining a patient

If you have discovered a sudden lump between your neck and shoulder, be sure to seek medical attention, especially if it persists. However, if you’re asymptomatic, consider a screening MRI as early detection of health issues can improve your prognosis. 

The Ezra Full Body screens up to 13 organs for cancer in about an hour. Following the scan, you can discuss your Ezra report with a medical professional. These fast and reliable scans are designed to keep you informed and proactive about your health. 

Take the first step and assess your cancer risk now.