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Is it a Lump or a Lymph Node

Is it a Lump or a Lymph Node


Updated May 29, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Is it a Lump or a Lymph Node

The Thyroid Gland

Photo © A.D.A.M.

Goiters or Colloid Nodular Goiters

Goiters are lumps on the thyroid gland. They appear in the front of the neck but can be deviated to one side. Because your thyroid moves up and down when you swallow, goiters and lumps on the thyroid will do this also. Goiters often indicate abnormal thyroid function but can occur with normal thyroid function as well. Some goiters are caused by iodine deficiency. This was once common in the United States but the prevalence has decreased dramatically since table salt has become iodine fortified. Goiters may be treated with medication such as Synthroid (levothyroxine) if they are caused by thyroid hormone deficiency or radioactive iodine if they are related to too much thyroid hormone. In some cases, they may have to be surgically removed.


Boils are skin infections that can appear as lumps. Most of the time they are close to the surface of the skin and pus may come out of them. However, this is not always the case. Boils can be deep and appear, or be palpated as a fairly large hard lump. They can occur at any place on the body. Boils are treated with drainage. Occasionally, antibiotics are also necessary -- either topical or taken by mouth in pill form, or in extreme cases intravenously. Sometimes they may have to be drained by a surgeon, known as an I&D (incision and drainage).

Malignant or Cancerous Lumps

Malignant or cancerous lumps are called tumors. While some sources say that the definition of a tumor is an abnormal growth of any tissue, the term is not usually used to define a benign growth. Cancer cells are mutated cells that grow and enlarge at an abnormal rate and can be very difficult to stop. There are thousands of ways to classify tumor types. While there are many symptoms of cancer, a visible lump is often the first thing a patient will notice and seek treatment for. This is why, despite the overwhelming odds that a lump will be noncancerous, it is so terrifying to notice any lump on your body and why it is so important to monitor the lump and get medical treatment.

Diagnosing Lumps

In the case of swollen glands, your doctor will often notice other signs of an infection. If the infection is bacterial, such as strep throat, you will need antibiotics. If the infection is viral, such as in mono, it will take time for your immune system to fight the infection and the glands to decrease in size.

For other lumps, several tests may have to be done. An ultrasound, x-ray, CT scan or MRI can be useful in telling whether or not the lump is solid or fluid filled. It can also measure the lumps and sometimes tell how the lump is affecting surrounding structures in the body.

However, ultimately, (if the lump is not caused by infection or filled with fluid) a biopsy will be needed. A biopsy involves taking a small amount of tissue from the lump and having it analyzed in a laboratory. This will determine exactly what the lump is. Sometimes the tissue can be retrieved using a needle. Other times the sample will have to be taken surgically. Your doctor will determine if and when you need to have a biopsy and the best way to retrieve the tissue.


National Cancer Institute. Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy: Questions & Answers. Accessed: June 9, 2009 from :http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/sentinel-node-biopsy

Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Goiter - Simple. Accessed: December 28, 2010 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001178.htm

Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Swollen Lymph Nodes. Accessed: June 12, 2009 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/MEDLINEPLUS/ency/article/003097.htm

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