What Are the Symptoms of Cancer in the Lymph Nodes?

Gregory Hanson

The symptoms of cancer in the lymph nodes vary, depending on whether that cancer developed in the lymphatic system or spread from some other part of the body. Lymphoma and leukemia are the most common cancers of the lymphatic system, and they can produce a variety of symptoms that can be distributed throughout the body in different nodes and related tissues. Cancers that develop in other tissues and then spread to and through the lymphatic system will sometimes cause similar symptoms to develop.

The lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system.

The body relies on the lymphatic system to help fight off infection and produce some of the components of blood. This system consists of an interconnected series of small nodes spread throughout the body, and it is interconnected with the circulatory system. Cancer appears in lymph nodes when it develops in the lymphatic system or when it spreads there from other organs and tissues.

Lymph nodes in the head and neck.
Lymph nodes in the head and neck.

Cancers that form in the lymphatic system often produce one or more swollen lymph nodes. These nodes may be tender or painless, and they often resemble lymph nodes that have swollen in response to a small wound or infection. The spleen and liver are both linked to the lymphatic system, and these organs can also become inflamed, produce discomfort, or stop functioning correctly because of cancer in the lymph nodes.

Swollen lymph nodes are one of the first signs of illness.
Swollen lymph nodes are one of the first signs of illness.

Systemic symptoms of cancer in the lymph nodes are common. A mild fever, night sweats, and difficulty sleeping can all occur, as can trouble breathing. Patients with this sort of cancer also often report losing their appetite. Weakness and unintended weight loss are common, and problems with wound healing may occur. In some cases, pain in the abdomen, chest, or back may also be a symptom of cancer.

Some cancers form in other parts of the body but then metastasize or spread to and through the lymphatic system. All the tissues of the body are connected by the lymphatic and circulatory systems, so cancer cells from any part of the body can spread through local tissue and gain access to these systems. The cells that spread in this way are still cells of the same type as the original tumor. Cancerous liver cells remain cancerous liver cells, but they may implant themselves in other regions of the body.

Cancer that has spread through the body will cause new tumors to form in other areas, often within the lymph nodes. The most notable symptoms of this cancer are often at the site of the initial tumor. In other cases, however, when the original tumor is small or located deep within the body, the first symptoms of metastatic cancer will appear elsewhere. Typically, when the lymph nodes are invaded by metastatic cancer, the symptoms are similar to those that manifest when the lymph nodes are the primary site of a tumor.

Systemic symptoms of cancer in the lymph nodes are common, including unintended weight loss.
Systemic symptoms of cancer in the lymph nodes are common, including unintended weight loss.

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