What Are Signs You Have A Cancerous Lymph Node?

What Are Lymph Nodes?

Cancerous Lymph Nodes
Cancer in the lymph nodes may occur in 2 ways include lymphoma and cancer can start somewhere else in the body and then spread to the lymph nodes.

Lymph nodes are part of the body’s immune system that work as filters for harmful substances. They help fight infection by attacking and destroying germs that enter the body through the lymph fluid. There are hundreds of lymph nodes throughout the body. 

Cancer in the lymph nodes may occur in 2 ways: 

  • Cancer that starts in the lymph nodes is called lymphoma (two types: Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s)
  • Cancer can start somewhere else in the body and then spread to the lymph nodes (more common)

What Are Signs and Symptoms of Cancerous Lymph Nodes?

Signs and symptoms of cancerous lymph nodes caused by Hodgkin’s lymphoma include: 

  • Lump(s) under the skin, such as in the neck, under the arm, or in the groin
  • Fever (may come and go over several weeks) without an infection  
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Itching skin
  • Feeling tired 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Cough, trouble breathing, chest pain

Signs and symptoms of cancerous lymph nodes caused by Non-Hodgkin lymphoma include:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Chills
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue 
  • Swollen abdomen 
  • Feeling full after only a small amount of food
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath or cough
  • Severe or frequent infections
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Fever (which can come and go over several days or weeks) without an infection
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Weight loss without trying 

What Causes Cancerous Lymph Nodes?

Cancer can appear in the lymph nodes in two ways: it can either start there or it can spread there from somewhere else.

Cancer that starts in the lymph nodes is called lymphoma. 

However, more commonly, cancer starts somewhere else and then spreads to lymph nodes (metastases). Even if cancer spreads to lymph nodes, it is still named after the part of the body where it originated.

Causes of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma include:

Genetic mutations
  • Changes in the immune system
  • Immune deficiencies (due to inherited conditions, certain drugs treatments, organ transplants, or HIV infection) 
  • Autoimmune diseases 
  • Chronic infections 

Risk factors for developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma include:

  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) 
  • Age: most common in early adulthood (especially in a person’s 20s) and in late adulthood (after age 55)
  • Gender: occurs slightly more often in males than in females
  • Family history
  • Weakened immune system: such as in people with HIV, those who take medicines to suppress the immune system after an organ transplant, and people with autoimmune diseases 

How Are Cancerous Lymph Nodes Diagnosed?

Normally, lymph nodes are tiny and may be difficult to locate. Infection, inflammation, or cancer can cause nodes to enlarge and if they are close to the body’s surface, they may be large enough to feel with the fingers. Some may even be big enough to be seen. 

However, when there are only a few cancer cells in a lymph node, the only way a doctor can check for cancer is the removal of all or part of the lymph node.

  • A biopsy is the removal of one lymph node
  • Lymph node sampling or lymph node dissection is the removal of multiple lymph nodes

Doctors may also take samples of one or more nodes using needles. Scans or other imaging tests may be used to look for enlarged nodes deep in the body.

What Is the Treatment for Cancerous Lymph Nodes?

Treatments for cancerous lymph nodes depend on the type of cancer and the stage of cancer and may include one or more of the following:

  • Chemotherapy 
  • Immunotherapy 
  • Radiation therapy 
  • Bone marrow transplant (also called "stem cell transplant") 
  • Surgery

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