What Are Mediastinal Lymph Nodes?

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  • Written By: Clara Kedrek
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2019
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Mediastinal lymph nodes are anatomic structures that play an important role the body's lymphatic system. They are located in a region of the body called the mediastinum, which is part of the chest cavity between the heart and lungs. Unlike some of the body's other lymph nodes, they cannot be felt through the skin and can only be evaluated using radiographic techniques. These lymph nodes can be enlarged due to conditions such as cancer, infection, and sarcoidosis.

Structures that filter lymphatic fluid and help eliminate substances, lymph nodes are located throughout the body. While some have a more superficial location and can be felt through the skin, others are located in deeper regions of the body. The mediastinal lymph nodes, for example, are located centrally in the chest cavity, in the area between the lungs. They surround the trachea, esophagus, aorta, pulmonary veins, and the central portion of the lungs.

Detection of enlarged mediastinal lymph nodes relies on imaging studies, as these structures cannot be felt through the skin. An X-ray of the chest, for example, can show a widening of the mediastinal region. A more definitive diagnosis is often performed by doing a computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest. When evaluating to see if the nodes are enlarged secondary to the spread of a cancer, positron emission technology (PET) scans can identify these nodes as well.


These lymph nodes can become enlarged for a number of reasons. Cancers, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic lymphoma, or testicular cancer, could cause this problem, for example. Lung disease caused by a number of pathologic agents, including different types of bacteria and fungi, can also cause it. Enlarged lymph nodes in the chest are also associated with sarcoidosis, which is a condition that can cause lung problems, heart disease, and eye problems.

Abnormal nodes can sometimes be accessed surgically for a number of reasons. If a patient is suspected to have cancer, surgeons might try to take a sample to see if they have been affected by its spread. This provides important information about the prognosis of the cancer patient, and also helps determine what sort of treatment is best suited for that patient's disease. If a patient has enlarged mediastinal lymph nodes for unknown reasons, getting a sample of these structures can be important because a microscopic examination of the contents can help in diagnosing the underlying condition.


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Post 3

@SimpleByte and @Ceptorbi, I had a huge knot in the lymph gland under my arm that I had to get biopsied. It turned out to be a sign of Sjogren's Syndrome, a rare systemic arthritis that affects the moisturizing glands like the tear ducts and salivary glands, the joints, and the lymph system as well as many organs. They tested me for sarcoidosis and other autoimmune conditions that affect the lymph nodes also, but it turned out to be Sjogren's.

Post 2

@SimpleByte, the symptoms of cancer in the lymph nodes include swollen or hard lymph nodes, fever, fatigue, night sweats, and itching skin. Chest pain and respiratory problems like coughs or shortness of breath can also develop with this condition. Since a swollen lymph gland can be a sign of infection and doesn't always indicate cancer, it's important to get to a doctor promptly if you experience any of these symptoms.

Post 1

What are the symptoms of cancer in lymph nodes? A routine colonoscopy diagnosed colon cancer in one of my neighbors. However, his doctors say the cancer started in the lymph nodes and metastasized to the colon. If he had any symptoms in his lymph nodes before he developed his colon issues, he must have ignored them.

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