What Is the Connection between Thyroid Cancer and the Lymph Nodes?

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  • Written By: Helen Akers
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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The connection between thyroid cancer and the lymph nodes is that cancerous growths that start in the thyroid can spread to the lymph nodes in the neck and chest. It is more common for certain forms of thyroid cancer to spread to the neck's lymph nodes. Another primary link between thyroid cancer and the lymph nodes is that the nodes in the neck often become swollen as a result of the cancer. One of the warning signs are lymph nodes that stay swollen for more than two weeks.

The body's lymph nodes are responsible for fighting any infections. As a result, they often become swollen or enlarged near the area of the body that is infected with a virus or a disease. Since the thyroid gland is located in the neck, swollen lymph nodes in that area may indicate a cancerous growth. Usually a bump or lump is also felt or observed along the thyroid. The lump, also known as a thyroid nodule, is typically painful to touch.

While a swollen neck can indicate a link between thyroid cancer and the lymph nodes, it does not mean that the cancer has spread beyond the thyroid gland. Sometimes fluid is taken from a thyroid nodule to determine if a person has thyroid cancer. If it is determined that an individual does have cancer, a trained physician will also check to see if it has spread to the lymph nodes.


Should cancer occur in both the thyroid gland and the neck's lymph nodes, surgery is usually performed to remove both the thyroid gland and the affected nodes. Surgery performed for thyroid cancer and the lymph nodes might be done in intervals if more than one node is affected. One node on one side of the neck is typically removed and the patient is given two months to recover. A second surgery is then performed to remove the second node. This gives the body enough time to adjust and recover and prevents dangerous swelling.

Thyroid cancer spreading to the lymph nodes is common. It is easy for cancer cells to access them since they are responsible for draining fluid and infectious material from the body. When cancer spreads to the body's lymphatic system, this can sometimes diminish hopes for a complete recovery. Papillary thyroid cancer is most likely to result in a spread of the disease to the neck's lymph nodes, but it doesn't necessarily indicate a potentially worse outcome.


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