What is the lymph system?
The lymph (or lymphatic) system is a component of the immune system in your body. It is made up of lymph vessels and lymph nodes. Lymph vessels are similar to veins in that they collect and transport blood throughout the body. Instead of blood, these vessels transport a clear watery fluid known as lymph. Lymph fluid, in fact, also contains white blood cells, which aid in the fight against infections.
If lymph fluid were not drained in some way, it would accumulate and cause swelling. Lymph vessels collect lymph fluid from around cells and transport it to the chest. Lymph fluid gathers in a large vessel, which drains into a blood vessel near the heart.
What Are Lymph Nodes?
Lymph nodes are those components of the immune system that act as filters for potentially harmful substances. They help to fight infection by attacking and destroying germs that enter the body through the lymph fluid. In fact, there are hundreds of lymph nodes located throughout the body. Lymph veins transport lymph fluid through nodes located throughout the body. The lymph nodes, however, act as filters for foreign substances such as cancer cells and pathogens. They contain immune cells capable of combating and eliminating pathogens introduced by lymph fluid.
Lymph nodes can be found in a variety of locations throughout the body, including the neck, armpit, chest, abdomen (belly), and groyne. Cancer can affect the lymph nodes in two ways: it can start there or spread there from another location. Lymphoma is a cancer that essentially starts in the lymph nodes. More often than not, cancer begins elsewhere and spreads to the lymph nodes.
Lymph node cancer can manifest itself in two ways:
- Lymphoma (of which there are two types: Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s) is a cancer that starts in the lymph nodes.
- Cancer can, however, start somewhere else in the body and spread to the lymph nodes (more common).
How does cancer spread to lymph nodes?
Cancer can, however, spread to other body parts from where it began (the primary site).
When cancer cells essentially break free from a tumour, they can spread to other parts of the body via the bloodstream or also the lymph system. Cancer cells may, in fact, end up in lymph nodes if they travel through the lymph system. Most escaped cancer cells die or are killed before they can begin to grow elsewhere. However, one or two may settle in a new location, begin to grow, and form new tumours. Metastasis is the spread of cancer to a new part of the body.
Cancer cells must go through several changes in order to spread to new parts of the body. They must develop the ability to separate from the primary tumour and attach to the outside wall of a lymph or blood vessel. They must, however, then pass through the vessel wall with the blood or lymph to reach a new organ or lymph node.
When cancer spreads to lymph nodes, it usually spreads to nodes close to the tumour. These are the nodes that have done the majority of the work in filtering out or killing the cancer cells.
What Causes Cancerous Lymph Nodes?
Lymph node cancer can also be lymphoma. Lymphoma, on the other hand, is not limited to the lymph nodes. I is a type of cancer that manifests itself in the bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, and other organs. Lymphoma can be cancer in the lymph nodes, but lymphoma is not always cancer in the lymph nodes.
Lymph node swelling is occasionally linked to cancer. Some cancers begin in the lymph nodes. Lymph system malignancies include acute lymphocytic leukaemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and Hodgkin lymphoma.
Cancer is more likely to spread from another part of the body and manifest as a metastasis in the lymph nodes. Cancerous cells can sometimes leave a tumour and spread to new areas. Cancer cells can essentially circulate in the blood and spread to other organs, or they can pass through the lymphatic system and reach lymph nodes.
A biopsy can help identify the specific type of cancer present in a lymph node when the professional medical analyses the removed tissue or node under a microscope. In fact, breast cancer cells in the lymphatic system will still appear to be breast cancer because they will resemble cancer cells from the tumour from which they originated.
Causes of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and also non-Hodgkin lymphoma are as follows:
- Genomic alterations
- Immune system alterations
- Immune system dysfunction (due to inherited conditions, certain drugs treatments, organ transplants, or HIV infection)
- Autoimmune diseases
- Persistent infections
How quickly will a cancerous lymph node grow?
A swollen lymph node may appear suddenly, but it may have been growing slowly before becoming visible.
If the lymph node is cancerous, the rate at which the lump appears and grows is determined by the type of lymphoma present. Lump formation in rapidly growing lymphomas can take days or weeks; for slower-growing kinds, it can take months or even years.
Keep in mind that not all lumps indicate lymphoma.
Risk factors for developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma include:
The below mentioned are risk factors for developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma:
The following factors increase the likelihood of developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma:
- Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)
- Early adulthood (specifically in one’s twenties) and late adulthood are the most common ages (after age 55)
- Gender: men are however slightly more likely to be affected than women.
- Ancestral origins
- People with HIV, those on immunosuppressive medications after an organ transplant, and those with autoimmune diseases all have weakened immune systems.
How Are Cancerous Lymph Nodes Diagnosed?
Lymph nodes are typically small and hard to find. Nodes can swell due to infection, inflammation, or cancer, and if they are close to the skin’s surface, they can be felt with the fingers. Some of them may even be noticeable.
When a lymph node contains only a few cancer cells, the only way for a doctor to check for cancer is, in fact, to remove the lymph node entirely or in part.
- Biopsy is the surgical removal of a single lymph node
- Lymph node sampling or lymph node dissection is the removal of multiple lymph nodes.
Doctors may also collect samples from one or more nodes using needles. Scanners or other imaging tests may be used to look for enlarged nodes deep within the body.
What encompasses the Treatment Regimen for Cancerous Lymph Nodes?
Treatment for cancerous lymph nodes varies depending on the type of cancer and the stage of the disease and may also include one or more of the following:
- Radiation therapy
- Bone marrow transplantation (also called “stem cell transplant”)