A carotid body tumour is a vascular tumour usually located at or around the bifurcation of the carotid artery and originating from the tunica adventitia. Carotid body tumours, which are generally non-functional and asymptomatic, grow slowly, which is why diagnosis can be delayed. Because of the vascular structures, fine-needle aspiration biopsy may be dangerous and impractical. Efficient and reliable methods of diagnosis, such as colour Doppler ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, computerised tomography and arteriography, can be useful. We report on a 58-year-old woman with diarrhoea, flushing and a cervical, hard, non-tender, fixed mass. An unsuccessful diagnostic fine-needle aspiration biopsy was performed after palpation of the cervical mass. A carotid body tumour was finally diagnosed. We concluded that non-invasive imaging methods should be evaluated before fine-needle aspiration in cervical masses. It should also be kept in mind that asymptomatic cervical masses may be related to non-local symptoms.