Swollen lymph nodes, cause and disease

Swollen lymph nodes are often associated with cancer, for example breast cancer or throat cancer. This may indeed be the case, but often the cause is a harmless infection or inflammation that can be easily treated. The lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system and play an important role in the body’s defenses. During illness, the lymph nodes swell and are sometimes clearly palpable and painful when pressed.

What are the lymph nodes?

A lymph node is also called a lymph node. A lymph node consists of many white blood cells. White blood cells are vital and play an important role in the immune system. The white blood cells are encapsulated and this capsule forms the lymph node. Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system that runs through the body. Without a properly functioning lymphatic system, we would quickly die from, for example, a cold virus or flu.

In the neck, groin and other places

Lymph nodes are located in different places in the body. Sometimes they are clearly palpable as bumps. Especially during illness, we feel the lymph nodes even better, because they are swollen. The lymph nodes are present in the following places:

  • In the neck
  • In the groin
  • In the armpits
  • Along the trachea and lower to the lungs
  • In the abdominal cavity

We also find lymph nodes between these places, but the above lists are the places where large groups of lymph nodes occur.

Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Swelling of a lymph node in the neck is a completely normal reaction to an infection. This is often due to laryngitis. An inflammation in the oral cavity or an ear infection can also cause swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Often a cold is enough to cause the lymph nodes to swell. If the lymph nodes are clearly palpable for more than two weeks and you have not had a cold, consult a doctor. Especially when the age is over 35 years. In children, the lymph nodes in the neck may be swollen for a long time. Their immune system is not yet working optimally and sometimes several cold viruses or bacteria can emerge one after the other.

The groin

The groin is located between the lower body and the upper leg and is the fold of skin that lies there. In the groin we find lymph nodes that can swell due to an infection or inflammation of the genitals, legs or lower body. A bladder infection can also cause swollen lymph nodes. With a bladder infection there is also a burning or painful feeling when urinating, difficulty urinating or urinating small amounts and sometimes pain that radiates to the back or legs. A wound in the groin area or a wound on the leg sometimes also causes swollen lymph nodes. This depends on the degree of inflammation of the wound.

The armpits

Swollen lymph nodes in the armpits often lead to breast cancer. It is not illogical that many women are afraid of this: more than 1 in 9 women will be affected by breast cancer. However, there may also be another cause for swollen lymph nodes in the armpit. A breast infection, especially in breastfeeding women, can also cause the lymph nodes to swell. Other causes include inflammation of the hand or arm, the shoulder or elsewhere in the armpit area. Sometimes there are multiple inflammations in the body, but these are not recognized as such, but coincidentally they are felt in the armpit. Women should have a lump in the armpit checked by a doctor. In other cases, the swelling disappears when the inflammation is resolved.

Trachea and lungs

Swollen lymph nodes along the trachea and lungs are often a sign of infections or inflammation of the respiratory tract. This is often pneumonia or inflammation of the bronchi. In general, these swollen lymph nodes are somewhat more difficult to feel from the outside than in the neck, groin or armpits. In the disease sarcoidosis (see below), the lymph nodes in the lungs in particular are swollen.

Abdominal cavity

It is also not always immediately noticeable that the lymph nodes are swollen in the abdominal cavity. Further examination by a doctor can often confirm this. The problem often lies with one of the organs in the abdominal cavity or with the reproductive organs. This usually involves inflammation that can be treated with antibiotics.


The disease sarcoidosis often occurs with an unknown cause, but is characterized by inflammation that can develop suddenly. These inflammations are often located around the lungs, but sometimes elsewhere in the body. Swollen lymph nodes may be palpable in one or more places. The course of the disease is variable: it often heals spontaneously and rarely does a patient die from sarcoidosis.

Cancer and swollen lymph nodes

Cancer is a malignant proliferation of cells. Cancer cells can detach from a tumor and move via the lymphatic system to other places in the body. This is how cancer spreads. Cancer cells spread by being carried along by the fluid drained from tissues. This fluid is transported via the lymphatic system. All this fluid passes through a specific lymph node, called the sentinel lymph node. cancer cells that spread through the lymphatic system will first have to pass through this gland. In various types of cancer that spreads through the lymph nodes, the sentinel nodes are checked first. If cancer is present here, the lymph nodes located further away are checked and, if necessary, removed. If no cancer cells are found in the sentinel nodes, the chance of metastasis is small. The chance of a cure for cancer then increases. The lymph nodes themselves can also develop cancer: lymphatic cancer. We distinguish between Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

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