Cancer that starts in the lymph nodes is lymphoma. Cancer can also spread from other parts of the body to various lymph nodes, including the neck.
Lymph nodes are part of the immune system. Their job is to filter out unhealthy cells, including those from infections and cancer. Lymph nodes can swell as they fight foreign matter.
Swollen lymph nodes are usually due to a cause other than cancer, such as an infection.
However, swollen lymph nodes can sometimes indicate lymphoma. Cancer can also spread to the lymph nodes from another area.
This article looks at cancer and lymph nodes in the neck, lymphoma, the lymphatic system, and more.
The lymphatic system consists of lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes throughout the body.
Lymph vessels carry lymph fluid that contains lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Lymphocytes help fight infection.
Lymph vessels are connected to hundreds of lymph nodes in the body, which filter lymph fluid for foreign matter, including cancer. Lymph nodes also have white blood cells to fight infection.
This is why a person may have enlarged or swollen lymph nodes if they have an infection.
There are lymph nodes throughout the body, including the:
The neck contains many lymph nodes, with
Lymphoma is cancer that begins in the lymphatic system and can affect the lymph nodes in the neck.
Cancer cells can also travel through the lymphatic system from other parts of the body and collect in the neck lymph nodes.
Lymphoma is cancer that begins in the lymphatic system.
- Hodgkin Lymphoma: Professionals call it Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) when a certain type of cells called Reed-Sternberg cells are present. The number of these cells increases as the disease progresses. HL can spread from one lymph node to another.
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL): Reed-Sternberg cells are not present in this type of lymphoma. The cancer can spread through the lymphatic system.
- B Lymphocytes or B Cells: B cells produce antibodies, a protein that helps protect the body against infection.
- T Lymphocytes or T Cells: T cells help fight infections and abnormal cells and influence how cells of the immune system function.
Lymphoma starts in one of these lymphocytes. However, it
In the United States, NHL is one of the
Symptoms of lymphoma include:
Cancer from any location in the body can spread to the lymph nodes.
Cancer cells can break away from the original tumor and travel through the lymphatic system to nearby lymph nodes.
Cancer can spread to distant lymph nodes. Distant refers to areas that are far from the original site of cancer.
Doctors refer to cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes as secondary cancer.
If cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, so be it
The main symptom of cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes is one or more swollen lymph nodes.
If a swollen lymph node presses on nearby organs, it can cause symptoms such as:
Cancer in the lymph nodes can also block the flow of lymph fluid, which can cause a buildup of fluid called lymphedema.
This can cause swelling in the arms or legs.
Lymph node removal may be part of treatment for a primary cancer that has spread or is likely to spread to the lymph nodes.
The term for this procedure is lymph node dissection or lymphadenectomy.
A procedure called neck dissection removes lymph nodes from the neck.
For this, a person is given a general anesthetic before a surgeon makes an incision to remove the lymph nodes on one or both sides of the neck.
People can have lymph node dissection at the same time as surgery to remove the primary tumor, or as a separate procedure.
After surgery, people may need to stay in the hospital for several days to recover. Painkillers and antibiotics can help reduce the risk of infection and ease any discomfort.
This section answers some frequently asked questions about lymph nodes and cancer.
What is the survival rate of lymph node cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, the overall 5-year relative survival rate for NHL is
The survival rate for cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes
What happens if cancer spreads to lymph nodes in the neck?
If cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, people may have a neck dissection to remove the cancerous lymph nodes and reduce the risk of the cancer spreading or coming back.
People may also undergo other treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, to help destroy the cancer cells.
Lymphoma is cancer that begins in the lymph nodes. Cancer from other parts of the body can also travel to the lymph nodes.
Swollen lymph nodes can indicate cancer, although it is usually a sign of infection.
Lymph node removal and other cancer therapies can help treat cancer in the lymph nodes.