Swollen and enlarged lymph nodes can be a sign of cancer, but commonly it is not cancer. Commonly inflamed lymph nodes return to their normal size, which is the size of a bean, within weeks after performing their function of filtering lymph, removing debris, and destroying pathogens in the body. When the body is overwhelmed with this task, like in the case of lymphoma, the nodes remain swollen. There are different types of lymphoma and the only way to determine the type is by a biopsy. This will require removal of the nodes. The cells will be tested to find out if there are cancer cells that spread from other parts of the body or if the lymph node is the primary cancer site.

Swollen and Enlarged Examinations

The only way to know for sure why a lymph node is swollen is to go to the doctor and get an examination. A physician will examine the node, take a medical history, and record all symptoms. Usually the exam will reveal a common ailment or minor infection. When necessary the health condition will be treated. There are times when the swelling will cause concern and the healthcare professional will need to rule out or diagnose lymphoma. These are some of the signs that they will need to be checked according to Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia these are the signs that they should be checked when the following occurs:

  • They don’t return to normal size after a few weeks
  • They continue to enlarge after several weeks
  • They are tender and red
  • They aren’t movable, are hard, or have an irregular shape

When there are symptoms of serious illness or infection it will be a good idea to see a healthcare professional. Though not common, lymphoma can be a cause of the swollen lymph nodes.

Lymphocytes and Cancer

Lymph nodes can swell up from cancer that has spread from other parts of the body to them but when the cause of swelling is from lymphoma the cancer originates in them. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that are part of the immune system and when they multiply abnormally it is diagnosed as lymphoma. This type of cancer is number three among the cancers that affect children. These are the two types of white blood cells that can become cancerous:

  1. B-lymphocytes (B-cells)
  2. T-lymphocytes (T-cells)

There are several types of lymphoma and the two main types are Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin. There are some of the other types, which are included in the following:

  • Anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) – rare and slow growing T-cell lymphoma that commonly affects children and young adults
  • Adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATLL) – rare and fast growing T-cell lymphoma
  • Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL) – rare and aggressive T-cell lymphoma that commonly affects the elderly
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL) – slow growing that can progress to an aggressive B-cell lymphoma
  • Primary cutaneous B-cell lymphomas (CBCLs) – slow growing B-cell lymphoma
  • Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) – generally slow growing T-cell lymphoma that affects more men than women
  • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) – an aggressive B-cell lymphoma that commonly affects adults though children can get this type also
  • Follicular lymphoma (FL) – a B-cell lymphoma that will transform into an aggressive type in about 1/3 of the cases – (Bruce D. Cheson, MD: How I Manage Follicular Lymphoma)
  • Mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) – a rare B-cell lymphoma that may or may not be aggressive and generally affects men over 60 years old
  • Marginal zone lymphomas – a slow progressing B-cell lymphoma
  • Peripheral T-cell lymphoma (PTCL) – rare and aggressive lymphoma
  • Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia (lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma or immunocytoma) – slow growing B-cell lymphoma that usually affects older adults

More details on the different types of lymphoma can also be found on the Lymphoma Research Foundation’s website. A healthcare professional will take a medical history, do tests, and log symptoms to diagnose the type of lymph node cancer that is present and where it originated.

Lymphoma Symptoms That May be Present

Swelling of the nodes is not usually a sign of cancer; it is frequently just the body’s response to a viral or bacterial infection. When the immune system kicks in the additional cells that are produced can also cause the nodes to enlarge. In addition to swollen lymph nodes there are often additional symptoms like the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Rapid weight loss for no known reason
  • Frequent fevers
  • Night sweats
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Rashes, skin lesions, and itchy skin
  • Discomfort or pain in the lower back
  • Alcohol triggered lymph node swelling

Often the symptoms may seem vague or may even be non-existent, which causes many types of lymph node cancers to go undiagnosed. This is especially true with the slow progressing types. When cancer is suspected tests will be done to determine if it is present and what type.

Understand More About – Lymph Node Locations


As with most illnesses and diseases, a prompt diagnosis will increase the success of treatment. This is even more important when an aggressive type of lymph node cancer is present. Different lymphomas will be treated differently, depending if it is Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and how far it has progressed. Many types of lymphoma have good survival rates and favorable prognosis.