Neck pain and cancer

Neck pain and cancer

We all associate neck pain with the pain we get with tension and stress that results in tightened neck muscles and leads to a feeling of pain behind or at the side of the neck at the base of the skull. This type of neck pain often goes away or reduces when we relax or take over-the-counter pain pills. The kind of neck pain that does not go away may signal something more serious such as a tumor that affects the vertebral column, such as osteochondroma/osteoid osteoma which is benign or osteosarcoma/chondrosarcoma, which is a malignant cancer.

Symptoms of neck pain and cancer


When neck pain & cancer combine, the pain is unrelenting even while sleeping and the individual can also experience a still neck or a decrease in neck range of motion, weakness or a numb feeling. There are many connections between pain felt in the neck region and other conditions. Medical professionals who are trained to ask the right questions when examining a patient that presents with neck pain will notice cancer and these or other connections. What should we know about the connections between neck pain and cancer so that we can understand when to see our doctor about our symptoms?

The key factor that we can look for is that neck pain that is often times associated with cancer typically is constant in nature or it has worsened and there is no pain relief when pain medications are used. At times the individual may also notice a lump in the neck or a sore throat in addition to the neck pain.

Diagnostic tests

Once the person goes to a healthcare professional a link between the neck pain & cancer will be determined by tests, a physical examination and by carefully analyzing the patient’s medical history. At times an x-ray of the neck area may be ordered to determine if there is a connection between the neck pain & cancer possibility. Depending on the results, more powerful tests may be used to ascertain the diagnosis such as a tomography (CT) or possibly a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

Possible types of cancer related to neck pain

The cancer diagnosis that may result from the connection between neck pain & cancer include:

·           Squamous cell carcinoma

·           Thyroid and spinal cancer

·           Leukemia

It is also possible that the connection between neck pain and cancer is related to cancer in other parts of the body such as lung cancer or breast cancer that has spread to the neck and head area. When squamous cell carcinoma settles in the nodes of the collarbone it can cause neck pain. Women are diagnosed with papillary carcinoma more often than men and this type of thyroid cancer can cause neck pain. If a person has a tumor growing on the spine they may also experience neck pain from the pressure on the spinal nerves. Typically neck pain is not the symptom that causes leukemia to be discovered because the patient usually experiences fatigue or excessive bleeding before they will notice neck pain.


As common as neck pain is today especially in our stressful society, it is important to understand that not all neck pain is associated with cancer. In fact, most of us experiencing neck pain do not have cancer. What is important to understand is that if the neck pain does not go away, becomes more severe over time or the individual cannot find relief when taking pain medications that there is a connection between neck pain & cancer and it is necessary to seek medical attention so a diagnosis can be made and treatment started as soon as possible if cancer is discovered.

None of this is meant to be alarming, but simply to educate anyone who may be experiencing ongoing neck pain to be sure to have a proper diagnosis from a medical professional to rule out any possibility of cancer.



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