What Is Retroperitoneal Adenopathy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2018
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Retroperitoneal adenopathy refers to swelling or disease in the lymph nodes behind the peritoneum. This structure covers most of the abdominal organs and may be used as an anatomical point of reference when discussing problems in the abdomen. Patients can experience retroperitoneal adenopathy for a number of reasons, and a detailed evaluation may be necessary to determine the root cause. This is important information to have in the development of a treatment plan, as it may determine which options, like surgery or medications to treat infection, would be most suitable.

Lymph nodes do not have to be swollen to exhibit adenopathy; this term actually refers to any kind of disease in the nodes, including small masses and other issues that can arise. These may be visible in a medical imaging study like a Computed Tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen. Biopsies can also indicate that retroperitoneal adenopathy is present in a patient. Improved medical imaging technology has made it possible to check for issues like this without invasive testing.


One potential reason patients may develop this condition is from the presence of cancer. Cancers in and around the abdomen can spread through the lymph nodes as they progress. Testing the nodes can provide information about the extent of metastasis. In surgery to remove tumors, removal of involved lymph nodes may be recommended as well, to remove as many cancer cells as possible from the body. The surgeon can use imaging as well as visual checks in the operating room to identify lymph nodes for excision.

Other diseases can also involve the lymph nodes, and sometimes patients experience temporary adenopathy in connection with a disease that later resolves. Infections can cause retroperitoneal adenopathy, for example. Certain autoimmune disorders can also start to attack the lymph nodes. Lymphatic circulation plays a key role in the immune system and thus a number of diseases can cause temporary swelling, obstructions, and other problems in the retroperitoneal lymph nodes.

This is a clinical sign, rather than a specific disease. Care providers may identify retroperitoneal adenopathy in a workup to find out why a patient is not feeling well and develop a diagnosis. They can also find it when they are specifically checking for problems with the lymph nodes, usually in association with an evaluation for cancer where there are concerns that it might have spread. Rather than trying to address the problem at the lymph nodes, treatment focuses on the underlying cause.


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