Lymph nodes they belong to the organs of the “first line of the front” of our body in defense against pathogens and infections. That’s why it’s not surprising that at some point in our lives they will probably be swollen, but it’s very important to monitor them and, in a certain situation, if it’s not an infection, to react.
What is the role of lymph nodes in our body
Lymph nodes become swollen in the process of detecting, filtering and expelling viruses, bacteria and damaged cells. They are “taken over” by lymphocytes, which fight the infection directly. However, if it is not about the normal activity of our immune system and the lymph nodes are swollen, it is possible that it is an incomparably more serious condition. One possibility is a malignant disease, known as lymphoma.
Swollen lymph nodes are detected in several ways during examination and diagnosis
Specialist in lymphomas and multiple myeloma, Dr. Felipe Samaniego from MD Amderson Cancer Center (University of Texas) notes that swollen lymph nodes are a common sign of infection. However, this expert states that in most patients who come to them with a suspected or diagnosed cancer called lymphoma, they are also enlarged and swollen. The doctor also describes that swollen lymph nodes among undiagnosed patients usually fall into one of these two categories:
- those that patients have noticed themselves or that the doctor can see or feel during physical examination
- those found during an MRI or CT scan because the patient complains of something else (chest pain or breast lump)
When swollen lymph nodes indicate lymphoma and where on the body they are located
Most infections, or harmful substances from the external environment, enter the body through the respiratory system, primarily through the mouth and throat. Therefore, one of the first places where we can feel that our lymph nodes are swollen is our neck. However, patients can feel or feel swollen lymph nodes in other places as well (most commonly in the groin or armpit area). Rarely, they can be swollen all over the body.
Lymphoma, a type of malignant blood disease that develops from lymphocytes, is often detected on mammography. The field of view of the mammogram also covers the armpit region, so swollen lymph nodes are often seen in that part of the body.
How to recognize swollen lymph nodes that are of infectious origin
If you are worried about a swollen lymph node, but if it does not decrease after two weeks, be sure to contact your doctor. Here are some other guidelines to keep in mind:
- size: they normally increase when the body is fighting an infection, but should decrease as the infection subsides; the normal size of the average lymph node is less than 1.5 cm; if the lymph node is larger, be sure to check with the doctor what is happening
- age range: infections are a common cause of swollen lymph nodes in young people, especially if it’s strep throat or mononucleosis; in older people, lymphoma occurs more often, although infections are also common; statistics say that among older people, swollen lymph nodes are more likely to be due to lymphoma
- node consistency: a normal lymph node is as hard as, for example, the tip of the nose; in lymphoma, they tend to be harder and firmer
- sensitivity: although everything is individual and you should not judge anything on your own, usually the lymph nodes are more painful when we are under infection; those who are swollen due to lymphoma, according to statistics and experience, do not hurt.
Other common symptoms of lymphoma
In the earliest stages of lymphoma, patients often feel itchy, inflamed skin or have unexplained rashes. In advanced cases, weight loss, fever, night sweats and fatigue occur. Individuals experience severe muscle pain after consuming alcohol.
Don’t forget: Swollen lymph nodes usually just mean that our immune system and body is fighting off infection as it should. However, if the lymph node keeps getting bigger and doesn’t go away on its own within two weeks, see a doctor.