Surgery for Head & Neck Masses in Children

Surgeons at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone specialize in procedures to manage a head or neck mass. They determine the most appropriate surgical approach based on your child’s symptoms and medical history, as well as the results of diagnostic tests.

An infected lymph node may develop a pus-filled abscess. If doctors are unable to use a needle to withdraw the infected fluid, they may surgically open the abscess to drain it.  

Masses caused by cysts, fluid-filled sacs that may develop within head and neck or gland tissue, tend to become infected with bacteria. They may need to be removed to prevent an infection from becoming chronic. Even if the infection is treated successfully with medication, it may return. Repeated bacterial infections may lead to more-serious medical problems, such as open skin sores or a sore that develops within the mass.

Head or neck tumors also often require removal. A biopsy can reveal whether a tumor is noncancerous, or benign, or cancerous, also known as malignant. Your child’s doctor creates a treatment plan based on the results. If a tumor is noncancerous, our specialists recommend removing it to prevent complications, such as infection or problems with breathing or swallowing. Doctors may also remove a benign growth for cosmetic reasons.

If a mass is cancerous, our otolaryngologists—also known as ear, nose, and throat doctors—partner with oncologists and other specialists to determine whether chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, or some combination of these may also be necessary. Experts at the Stephen D. Hassenfeld Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital, offer family-centered care and support tailored to your child’s individual needs.


Surgery to remove a head or neck mass is called excision. Using general anesthesia, a surgeon makes an incision to access the mass, then carefully removes the tissue. Surgeons often use imaging such as ultrasound, CT scans, or MRI scans of a child’s head and neck to guide them during the procedure.

After the procedure, the surgeon closes the incision with stitches. The incision may be covered with a bandage.

Your child may be a bit drowsy for a few hours as the anesthesia wears off. Pain medication helps to relieve any discomfort during the first few days after surgery. Most children can eat and drink as usual after one or two days and feel no pain at the incision site within a week.

Your child’s doctor schedules a follow-up appointment 7 to 10 days after the procedure to ensure the incision is healing well.

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