How Fine Needle Aspiration Can Make a Difference in Diagnosing Neck Masses

Many people, on finding a lump or bump in the neck, might immediately leap to the conclusion that it’s cancer. However, cancer is only one of a number of problems that can show up as a neck lump. Luckily, in the hands of the right specialist, a simple fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy can usually offer a quick and accurate diagnosis.

An FNA biopsy is a quick and simple way to obtain cells for a specimen. The doctor inserts a very thin needle—thinner than the type that is used to draw blood – into the lump. Cells are dislodged, similar to a straw through sand, or fluid is withdrawn and expelled onto a slide. This can be immediately examined under the microscope, by a board certified cytopathologist. It’s not unusual to have a diagnosis within 24 hours. The procedure is performed in a doctor’s office and is less expensive than the classic open biopsy. And, there is little to no down time.
In addition to cancer, lumps and bumps could be caused by anything from infection or inflammation, or even because of something you were born with. Here are some common reasons for neck lumps and bumps:
Cysts – fluid-filled sacs of tissue. Usually, they are not cancerous. These may be something you were born with.
Inflammation – from infections caused by bacteria or viruses such as tuberculosis, or autoimmune disorders.
Swollen lymph nodes – due to inflammation or infections
Salivary gland tumors—the majority of these are benign
Goiter – either generally enlarged or due to thyroid nodules
Thyroid nodules – encapsulated, excess growth of thyroid tissue, usually runs in families. Only 4-6 % of these are cancerous.
The first step when you find a neck lump is to get a physical examination. The doctor will want to know about your family history as well because some conditions can be hereditary. If some of your direct relatives had a condition like thyroid nodules, for example, it increases the odds that you will have them as well. Depending on what the doctor suspects, you may need blood tests or other diagnostic studies, such as an ultrasound. Additionally, an FNA by a fine needle aspiration specialist is often the next step.
Don’t let the possibility of cancer raise your anxiety if you find a lump. Contact a board certified fine needle aspiration specialist for an assessment. You should have an answer within a few days.

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Celina Nadelman, M.D.

1125 S. Beverly Drive #602
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Call us: 310.702.6701