Lymph Nodes

Commonly called “swollen glands” when they’re inflamed, a lymph node is actually a local center of our immune system that’s full of white blood cells (WBCs).ย  Lymph, a liquid substance which circulates throughout the body carrying WBCs and the dead germs & early cancers which they’d destroyed, passes through lymph nodes, to get recycled.ย  We have lymph nodes all over, but only ones in the neck, armpits, elbows, and groin can be examined clinically.

If a lymph node is swollen, it could be because the body is fighting an infection nearby.  But some swelling is due to cancer of the lymph nodes, that either began in it, or got spread to it from elsewhere (metastasis).  Swollen lymph nodes that are tender are usually due to the body fighting an infection nearby. 

Cancer in a lymph node usually doesn’t hurt.  A lymph node swollen from fighting infection may remain large forever, & stop hurting.  But we can tell it’s not cancer because it feels soft or spongy, and can be moved around.  Cancer usually feels rock-hard, and can’t be moved or wiggled.  Sometimes a biopsy is necessary to tell the difference.

Chronic infections that are spread throughout the body can also make lymph nodes stay swollen, without pain.  Syphilis used to be the most common one, now HIV is.  We test for HIV when we find unusual swollen nodes.  Most people have some in the front of the neck and in the groin, so those don’t make us suspicious.  But painless swollen nodes in the back of the head, back of the head, armpits, & elbows lead us to order tests.

Certain lymph nodes make us worry about metastatic cancer.ย  Nodes in the armpit could come from breast cancer.ย  Nodes in the hollows above the collarbones would make us worry about lung cancer; the most ominous node in the body is the one in the hollow above the left collarbone, it could be a cancer from anywhere in the left lung or breast, or anywhere in the abdomen or pelvis.

Commonly called “swollen glands” when they’re inflamed, a lymph node is actually a local center of our immune system that’s full of white blood cells (WBCs).  Lymph, a liquid substance which circulates throughout the body carrying WBCs and the dead germs & early cancers which they’d destroyed, passes through lymph nodes, to get recycled.  We have lymph nodes all over, but only ones in the neck, armpits, elbows, and groin can be examined clinically.

If a lymph node is swollen, it could be because the body is fighting an infection nearby.  But some swelling is due to cancer of the lymph nodes, that either began in it, or got spread to it from elsewhere (metastasis).  Swollen lymph nodes that are tender are usually due to the body fighting an infection nearby. 

Cancer in a lymph node usually doesn’t hurt.  A lymph node swollen from fighting infection may remain large forever, & stop hurting.  But we can tell it’s not cancer because it feels soft or spongy, and can be moved around.  Cancer usually feels rock-hard, and can’t be moved or wiggled.  Sometimes a biopsy is necessary to tell the difference.

Chronic infections that are spread throughout the body can also make lymph nodes stay swollen, without pain.  Syphilis used to be the most common one, now HIV is.  We test for HIV when we find unusual swollen nodes.  Most people have some in the front of the neck and in the groin, so those don’t make us suspicious.  But painless swollen nodes in the back of the head, back of the head, armpits, & elbows lead us to order tests.

Certain lymph nodes make us worry about metastatic cancer.  Nodes in the armpit could come from breast cancer.  Nodes in the hollows above the collarbones would make us worry about lung cancer; in the hollow above the left collarbone, it could be a cancer from anywhere in the abdomen or pelvis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: