What Causes a Cancer Lump on the Back of the Head?
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Cancer Lump on Back of Head - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Published on Aug 26, 2022 and last reviewed on Mar 17, 2023   -  6 min read


A cancer lump on the back of the head is a suggestive sign of head and neck cancer. Read this article to know more about it.


A cancerous lump on the back of the head is a suggestive sign of head and neck cancer. A cancer lump on the back of the head may be either a cyst, tumor, or any soft tissue sarcomas, etc. Tumors at the back of the head are referred to as posterior skull base tumors. A cancerous lump often brings out discomfort to patients over the head, neck, and spine region. One should always be alert if they find any sudden, unusual growth of lump-like structures at the back of the head, even if they are asymptomatic. A proper consultation with your doctor helps in delineating the condition.

What Causes Cancer Lump on the Back of Head?

Lumps with malignant potential on the back of the head can either start as a primary tumor (originate within the skull base) or due to metastasis from other parts of the body (secondary tumor). The obvious development of a cancer lump on the back of the head is not known, but a varied number of factors increase the risk of developing it. That include:

What Does a Cancer Lump on the Back of the Head Look Like?

The characteristic appearance of the cancerous lump often looks like a hard, firm, non-tender swelling that may be painless or painful. In certain cases, the lump looks reddish, fluctuant, and painful. Painful cancer lumps on the back of the head are often suggestive of lymph node involvement. Do examine for such changes in your body, and if you find any, then do consult with your doctor.

What Are the Symptoms Associated With Cancer Lump on Back of Head?

A lump anywhere in the body causes discomfort to the patient. There are cases where the cancer lump is so big that it protrudes outside and creates a lack of mental peace and irritability in the patient. The signs and symptoms associated with a cancer lump on the back of the head include:

  • Headache.

  • Dizziness.

  • Pain at the back of the head, spine, neck, etc.

  • Runny nose.

  • Pain over the groin area is seen in cases when cancer spreads to the spine.

  • Nausea or vomiting.

At advanced stages, cancer shows the following symptoms:

  • Memory problems.

  • Nosebleeds.

  • Visual problems if there is an association of cancer with nerve endings of the eye.

  • Pain over nearby lymph nodes due to lymph node involvement.

If you feel suspicious that you have such symptoms, then consult your doctor at the earliest.

What Are the Different Cancer Lumps Seen on the Back of the Head?

The different cancer lumps seen on the back of the neck include:

1. Posterior Skull Base Tumors- These tumors are seen at the back of the skull. Some of the examples of malignant posterior skull base tumors include;

  • Chordoma- Rare, slow-growing cancer that develops in bones of the skull and spine.
  • Meningioma- A tumor that develops from membranes of the brain and spinal cord. It is mostly benign but has malignant potential too.
  • Chondrosarcoma of Head and Neck- A rare sarcoma in the head and neck with malignant potential.

2. Brain Tumor- Brain tumors with malignant potential that occur at the back of the head include:

  • Medulloblastoma- The most common cancerous brain tumor that occurs in children.
  • Ependymoma- A brain tumor that arises in the ependymal cells in the brain and spinal cord.

3. Skin Cancer- Skin cancer that develops a lump in the back of the head looks reddish with raised edges. Some of the skin cancers that develop at the back of the head include.

  • Melanoma- Type of skin cancer that develops in melanocytes.
  • Squamous Cell Cancer- Cancer that develops in the squamous cell.
  • Basal Cell Cancer- Cancer that develops in the basal cell layer.

How to Diagnose Cancer Lumps on the Back of the Head?

Your doctor will ask to do the following diagnostic tests to delineate whether the lump is cancerous or not. The diagnostic tests include:

  1. Biopsy- A biopsy helps in delineating whether the lump is cancerous or not. It gives out a definitive diagnosis. The biopsy procedure involves removing a small amount of tissue from the affected site, and then it is sent for pathological examination. Pathological examination reveals the characteristics of the cancer cells.

  2. Imaging Tests- Imaging tests like CT (computed tomography) scan, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), and X-rays are very useful in determining the size, extent of cancer involved, and the structures associated with the tumor.

  3. Biomarker Testing- Biomarker testing helps in characterizing the changes or alterations that occur in tumors.

  4. Bone Scan- In a bone scan, a radioactive tracer is used to examine the bones. It helps in detecting cancer spread to the bone.

After carrying out all the diagnostic tests suggested, the doctor will examine the test results and give a detailed explanation of the condition to the patient. Once the results are verified, the doctor will plan a treatment for the condition.

How to Treat Cancer Lump on the Back of the Head?

The treatment planning to treat cancer depends on its severity, nature, the spread of cancer to different body parts, etc. Treatment planning is designed by doctors who specialize in treating head and neck cancers like neurologists, plastic surgeons, oncologists, otolaryngologists, etc. Let us see in brief the various treatment options:

1. Surgery-

The main aim of surgical treatment is to completely remove the cancer lump and the cancer cells present in the affected area.

  • Surgical Excision- Surgical excision involves the complete removal of a cancerous lump, and a little amount of surrounding healthy tissue is removed to avoid its recurrence. Surgical excision is not a preferred treatment option in cases where the lump involves any vital structures.
  • Craniotomy- It is the most common surgery used in brain tumor removal. In this, a neurosurgeon makes an incision in the scalp where the cancer lump is present, and the lump and the cancerous tissue over the affected site are removed. This procedure is done only by experienced neurosurgeons as it is an intensive surgical procedure.
  • MRI Guided Laser Ablation- MRI-guided laser ablation is a type of minimally invasive surgical procedure that is highly preferred over craniotomy in treating brain tumors. It helps surgeons in treating highly challenging brain tumors like glioblastoma, which is highly fatal and has a high recurrence rate. In this technique, a fiber optic laser applicator is inserted into the skull to access the tumor via a small incision made by the surgeon in the skull. The laser applicator is navigated inside the skull under MRI guidance, and once it reaches the affected area, the cancer cells are killed by the laser heat emitted from the laser applicator.
  • Lymph Node Dissection- Lymph node dissection is done only in cases where cancer metastasizes to the lymph node.

2. Radiation Therapy- In radiation therapy, cancer cells are killed using high-energy X-rays.

3. Chemotherapy- Drugs are used to kill cancer cells in chemotherapy. The main drawback of using chemotherapy is it not only affects cancer cells but also the normal cells of the body. In order to overcome this drawback, an optional treatment modality is used known as “targeted drug therapy,” where the drugs specifically kill the cancer cells without affecting the normal cells.

4. Immunotherapy- Immunotherapy is done by injecting medicines into the body via IV (intravenously) or IM (intramuscular), or subcutaneously. Immunotherapy helps in improving the immune system of an individual and thus helps in the fight against cancer.


An early diagnosis is a must in diagnosing the unusual lump growth on the body, which helps in treating it better. The patient should consult the doctor to examine the condition and delineate whether the lump is either cancerous or not. If the doctor finds out the lump growth to be cancerous, then he will discuss with the patient the different treatment plans to remove the lump completely and cure it.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is a Cancer Lump Painful?

Cancer lumps are usually painless, hard, and immovable. They may appear under the skin overnight and then grow in size. Cancer symptoms may also include fever, fatigue, or weight loss. This could be because cancer cells consume a large portion of the body's energy supply.


What Is the Shape of a Cancer Lump?

Cancerous lumps typically have an irregular shape and are firm or solid. Most round, well-circumscribed lesions are benign and not cancerous, like cysts, fibroadenomas, and intramammary lymph nodes. The only way to know if a lump is cancerous is to have it biopsied by the doctor. This entails surgically removing a portion or all of the lump. Then, they will examine the cyst or tumor tissue under a microscope for cancer cells.


How Do I Know if My Lump Is Cancerous?

Cancerous lumps are usually large, hard, and painless to touch and appear spontaneously. The mass will continue to grow in size over the coming weeks and months. Cancerous lumps outside the body can occur in the neck, breast, or testicle and the legs and arms.


How Quickly Does Cancer Grow?

It differs from tumor to tumor. However, it is slower than one might expect. There is a long period when a tumor has begun to develop but has not yet become dangerous. For example, a 1-millimeter cluster of tumor cells typically contains around a million cells and takes approximately six years to grow to this size. In most cases, a tumor cannot be detected until it has grown to 1 millimeter in size. Therefore, it will take many years to develop into a mass of about five centimeters, most likely to be a problem.


Is a Lump on the Head an Indication of Cancer?

Most lumps on the head are not cancerous and are results of an injury or fall. The moist tissues around the mouth, salivary glands, nose, and throat are where usually most head and neck cancers begin. The most common symptoms are an enlarged lymph node in the neck, a new lump on the head or neck, or a persistent sore in the mouth, nose, or throat. Other symptoms include swallowing difficulties, a persistent sore throat, and vocal changes.


Should I Be Concerned About the Lump on My Head?

A lump on the head can be caused by various conditions, including injuries, fatty growths, cysts, bone spurs, and inflamed hair follicles. Not all lumps on the head necessitate medical attention. Swelling, redness, or pain on or around the head will usually go away on its own in some days to a few weeks. However, you will need to seek medical attention if you notice any lumps or sores that appear unexpectedly, change in appearance, or become painful. The health professional will be able to check for changes. They may investigate further with a biopsy or other medical imaging tests if necessary.


How Does a Cancerous Lump on the Scalp Appear?

Skin cancer that affects the scalp is either covered up by hair or situated on the part of the scalp that is difficult to inspect; these malignant (cancerous) lesions frequently go unnoticed. Cancer on the scalp can appear as a mole, ulcer, sore, or other types of growth. The two most common, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, are highly curable. Melanoma is rarer but more aggressive that can still be cured if detected early.


Are There Lymph Nodes at the Back of Your Head?

Yes, the occipital lymph nodes are situated near the occipital bone of the skull in the back of the head. Like other lymph nodes throughout the body, the occipital lymph nodes play a vital role in the body's immune system. The occipital lymph nodes are found outside the occipital bone rather than within the skull. These nodes filter the lymphatic vessels that run through the scalp. Once the foreign cells are destroyed, the lymph drains into the bloodstream, and the impurities it contains are filtered out into the liver.


Do All Hard Lumps Indicate Cancer?

A hard lump beneath the skin does not always indicate cancer. Non-cancerous lumps can be caused by clogged glands, infections, or hormonal changes. It is recommended not to try popping or removing a lump. This may result in an infection or cause the lump to grow even bigger.

Last reviewed at:
17 Mar 2023  -  6 min read




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