Lymph Node Cancer (Lymphoma)

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Lymph node cancer is a secondary cancer that most often starts somewhere else in the body and then spreads to lymph nodes. This is called as metastasis. However the cancer can begin in the lymph nodes too. When it begins in the lymph nodes, it is called lymphoma.

Lymphoma is the cancer of lymphatic system. The main roles of lymphatic system is to drain out excess of fluid from the tissues, filter it and return it back in the blood; and help to fight against infection.


Organs that are considered as part of lymphatic system are:

  • Spleen
  • Thymus
  • Tonsils
  • Adenoids
  • Bone marrow

Lymphomas begin when the white blood cell known as lymphocytes undergo cancerous change and multiply in an uncontrolled way. The abnormal cells are called lymphoma cells which gather collectively in lymph nodes. These collections of cancer cells are called malignant tumours.

There are a few risk factors for the Hodgkin lymphoma (HL). It includes an infection with a virus known as Epstein-Barr virus. A few risk factors for the non-Hodgkin lymphoma include some diseases which are autoimmune, infection with HIV or AIDS virus, infection of the T-lymphocytic virus, and also a risk factor being a large amount of meat and fat eater.  Medications which are immunosuppressants or some pesticides may also be a few risk factors. The spread of lymphoma is prone to many organs like the liver or the brain or the lungs.

Types of Lymph Node Cancer

There are various types of lymphoma which are classified in two groups:

Hodgkin Lymphoma

This contributes about 10 % of lymphomas. It is a type of lymphoma in which the origination of the cancer is from the white blood cells or the leukocytes. It is known by the spread of the disease in an orderly manner via one lymph node to another. There is a development of the symptoms that are systemic with advancement of the disease. When the cells are examined under a microscope, the findings characteristic for this are the Reed-Sternberg kind of cells which are multinucleated in nature.

The treatment of this kind of lymphoma is done with radiation, chemotherapy, or the stem cells transplantation (hematopoietic), with the age and sex determining to be the choice of treatment.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)

Majority of lymphomas are NHL contributing around 90 %. These are a group of the cancers of the blood which include any type and nature of lymphoma, but in exception with the Hodgkin lymphoma. These types of lymphomas are in variation in a significant manner with the severity ranging from slow growth to an aggressive growth. These are induced by the T lymphocytes, a type of the leucocytes (white blood cells), helicobacter pylori and the Epstein-Barr virus to cite a few. The treatment is done in combination with chemotherapy, immunotherapy coupled with antibody therapy (monoclonal), radiation and stem cell transplantation (hematopoietic).

Incidence of Lymph Node Cancer

Hodgkin lymphoma develops between the age of 15 and 30 years.

NHL is most often seen in people over the age of 50 years.

However lymphomas can begin at any age.

Causes of Lymph Node Cancer

The causes of ever increasing cases of lymphomas are likely to be due to various factors. The exact cause is still unknown. But it is observed that individuals with certain factors are more prone to develop lymph node cancer.

The risk factor includes weakened immune system. Immune system helps protect and fight against infection in the body. It becomes weak in people who are on immunosuppressant drugs, people with immunodeficiency diseases. The ability of fighting against the bacteria, virus or any kind of infection is compromised and hence susceptible to lymph node cancer.

Signs and symptoms of Lymph Node Cancer

The most common symptom of lymphoma is a firm painless swelling of a lymph node present in neck, under the arms or in the groin. The swelling of lymph node or nodes is called lymphadenopathy.

The other symptoms are recurrent fevers due to suppressed immune system, loss of weight, fatigue tiredness, itching of skin, increased perspiration.

When the lymph nodes in the abdomen, chest are involved, lymphoma cause bloating; cough, difficulty in breathing respectively.

Diagnosis of Lymph Node Cancer

In some cases, there are no symptoms produced and the cancer is usually diagnosed after a routine examination or Chest X-ray.

CT scan or MRI scan are suffice to detect lymph node cancer.

Certain cases of lymphoma are advised to undergo excision biopsy which involves removing of lymph node or nodes involved under general anaesthesia.

Fine needle aspiration biopsy can be done in clinic where the sample of cells is taken from the enlarged lymph node using a syringe.

Treatment of Lymph Node Cancer

The treatment of plan depends on the type of lymphoma, the progress of disease, age and general health of the patient.

Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy are used to manage lymphoma.

Surgical removal of the lymph node is done where the lymphoma started. Lymph nodes close to the primary tumour are removed along with the tumour.