In most cases, head and neck masses that occur in children are benign and pose no threat to their life. Masses are commonly removed surgically if found to be malignant. Dermoid cysts, Teratomas, Branchial Cleft Anomalies, and neural tumors are just a few of the types of masses that can occur in children. Neuroblastoma, Salivary Gland Malignancy, and different types of lymphomas are malignant masses that must be treated and removed through surgery and other modalities. A pediatric ENT surgeon who specializes in these types of surgeries can remove the mass and then reconstruct or restore the area to allow for more normal growth patterns to resume.
Lymph glands are located in many places on the head and along the neck, including the sides of the head, behind the ears, under the jaw, and under the tip of the chin. The lymph system works much like the circulatory system only instead of carrying blood, it carries a substance called lymph. This delicate system is responsible for flushing away contaminants, byproducts, and wastes produced by the body. This also includes bacteria and viruses which have been neutralized. If a person is trying to fight off an infection or other disease, the lymph glands can swell. This occurs because the body is trying to rid itself of the intruders. Although lymph glands can become quite large, they typically return to normal when the infection has passed. If a lymph node becomes overwhelmed by bacteria, an abscess can occur. Pus can accumulate in the neck and may require surgery to remove it and resolve the infection. Rarely, large lymph nodes in a child can indicate lymphoma or other form of cancer. If a child has had an enlarged lymph node for more than a few weeks, contact the doctor.
Head and neck masses are diagnosed in several ways. Ultrasound, MRI, and CT scans are the most common because they aren’t invasive. Depending upon the characteristics of the lesion, multiple imaging techniques may be recommended. These masses are typically benign. Imaging studies help to form a list of possible diagnoses and a biopsy or surgical removal can confirm that diagnosis. Surgery to remove a mass in the head and neck is often recommended for diagnostic purposes and to prevent further problems including recurrent infections. In cases where a malignancy is believed to be present, the doctor may choose to do a biopsy first or simply remove the mass altogether to ensure it doesn’t spread. The doctor can use these tools to better plan your child’s care.
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