Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped organs which produce and store blood cells that help fight disease and infection. Also known as lymph glands, lymph nodes remove cell waste and fluids from lymph (lymphatic fluid), and store lymphocytes (white blood cells). Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system and are located throughout the body, including the neck, armpits, abdomen and groin.
Causes of swollen lymph nodes
There are many causes for swollen lymph nodes. Most commonly, lymph nodes become swollen due to an infection, such as a viral upper respiratory infection like the common cold. Sometimes, lymph node swelling is caused by an underlying condition. When lymph node swelling persists and is accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever, night sweats or weight loss, without any obvious infection, it may be time to see a doctor for an evaluation.
Cancer in the lymph nodes
Some cancers can cause swelling of the lymph nodes. Cancer may start in the lymph nodes or, more commonly, it spreads there from somewhere else.
- Pain or swelling in the area of the lymph nodes is a common symptom of cancer that starts in the lymphatic system, such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma.
- Cancer that starts in another part of the body and spreads to the lymph nodes is called a metastasis. Even when cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, it is still named after the area of the body where it started. Learn more about metastatic cancer, including diagnosis and treatment.
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Lymph nodes and staging cancer
Lymph nodes play an important role in cancer staging, which determines the extent of cancer in the body. One of the most commonly used systems for staging cancer is the TNM system, which is based on the extent of the tumor (T), the extent of spread to the lymph nodes (N), and the presence of metastasis (M).
If there’s no cancer found in the lymph nodes near the cancer, the N is assigned a value of 0. If nearby or distant nodes show cancer, the N is assigned a number (such as 1, 2 or 3), depending on how many nodes are affected, how much cancer is in them, how large they are, and where they are.
Treatment for cancer in the lymph nodes
Treatment for cancer in the lymph nodes depends on a variety of factors, including tumor size and location, and whether or not the cancer has metastasized (spread) to other areas of the body.
Surgery may be used to treat some forms of metastatic cancer that have spread to the lymph nodes. Other lymph node cancer treatment options may include chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation, and other cancer therapies.
At Cancer Treatment Center of America® (CTCA), we provide personalized treatment plans using advanced technologies to target advanced and complex cancers, combined with integrative oncology services to improve quality of life.
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