Swollen Supraclavicular Lymph Nodes: What Does It Mean?

Swollen supraclavicular lymph nodes can occur in response to infection or because of metastatic cancer. This swelling usually occurs just above the collarbone.

Lymph nodes are part of the immune system. They grow in size due to diseases such as infection, cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Sometimes a virus like the flu can cause swelling of the lymph nodes that goes away once the virus is gone.

Other times, enlargement of the lymph nodes may indicate a more serious condition that needs to be treated.

This article discusses possible reasons for supraclavicular lymph node swelling, diagnosis, treatment, and when to contact a doctor.

The supraclavicular lymph nodes are located just above the collarbone.

The number and the exact position of these nodes can vary, but there are usually more to the left.

One of the supraclavicular lymph nodes is called the Virchow’s node (VN), named after German pathologist Rudolf Virchow.

The VN is usually the node on the left side closest to the center of the body. However, like the other supraclavicular lymph nodes, the position of the VN may differ from its usual location.

Lymph nodes are small glands that act as filters in the immune system.

The body’s cells and tissues eliminate waste with the help of lymph fluid, which travels in vessels and passes through lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are called white blood cells lymphocytes that destroy pathogens.

When a person is sick, the immune system produces more lymphocytes, causing the lymph nodes to swell.


Swollen supraclavicular lymph nodes need prompt evaluation as this type is associated with cancer. Usually, cancer has spread or progressed beyond the original cancer site.

About 34-50% of people with supraclavicular lymphadenopathy, the medical term for swollen supraclavicular lymph nodes, also have abdominal cancer.

Swollen supraclavicular nodes on both collarbones may indicate a breast malignancy, such as lung cancer.

If lymph node swelling occurs only on the left side, cancer is more likely to develop in the abdomen or pelvis. It is like that because lymph flow sends thoracic, abdominal, and pelvic drainage to the supraclavicular lymph nodes on the left side of the body.

UN magnification is called the Troisier sign and can occur because of stage 4 gastrointestinal cancer.

The Troisier sign can also occur as a result of other types of cancer, including:

Other causes

Swollen supraclavicular nodes are not always a sign of cancer. Sometimes they can indicate a reaction to an infection.

For example, a 2021 preprint case study described a 12-year-old girl who developed supraclavicular lymphadenopathy due to COVID-19 infection. It is important to note that preprint research has not gone through the formal peer review process.

A 2019 case report suggested that lymphadenopathy may also be a temporary side effect of vaccines. The report described supraclavicular lymph node swelling in an 11-year-old boy after receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

Read more about cancer in the lymph nodes here.

Swollen lymph nodes appear as a bump under the skin.

Lymph nodes containing cancerous cells differ slightly from reactive, non-cancerous glands, as the following table shows:

Nasty diagnose the cause of swollen supraclavicular lymph nodes, doctors assess the characteristics and cellular contents of the nodes with procedures such as:

Imaging such as CT, PET, and ultrasound can help doctors determine whether cancer has spread.

Biopsy samples are analyzed in a lab to determine the types of cells in a lymph node. This can be used to determine whether cancer is present and, if so, what type.

Treating swollen lymph nodes focuses on the underlying cause.

Antibiotics can treat bacterial infections, and medications such as corticosteroids and immunosuppressants can treat autoimmune conditions.

Doctors may use a combined treatment approach if the cause of swollen lymph nodes is cancer. This may include radiation, surgery, and systemic therapy such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy to target cancer metastases in different locations.

Doctors may also treat the lymph nodes themselves with radiation or surgery to prevent trapped tumor cells from leaving the lymph nodes and recirculating.

Signs that a person should contact a doctor include:

  • any supraclavicular lymph node that is larger than 0.5 centimeters (cm)
  • other lymph nodes larger than 2 cm
  • lymph nodes that are hard or firm, fixed, and not tender
  • swollen lymph nodes in multiple areas
  • the person experiencing swollen lymph nodes is 40 or older

The outlook for a person with swollen supraclavicular lymph nodes depends on the underlying cause. If the lymph nodes swell due to an infection, the swelling should decrease as the infection clears.

Swelling in supraclavicular lymph nodes is often a sign of metastatic cancer. In this case, a person’s outlook depends on their age, overall health, and the type and stage of the cancer.

Supraclavicular lymph nodes are located just above the collarbone on both sides of the body. Swollen supraclavicular lymph nodes may indicate an immune system response to infection or metastatic cancer.

Doctors can treat swollen supraclavicular lymph nodes by addressing the underlying cause.

Infections may require treatment with antibiotics or antivirals. If cancer is the cause, doctors may recommend a combined approach, including radiation, surgery, and systemic treatments such as chemotherapy.

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