Does Enlarged Lymph Node Mean Cancer?

Whenever a person experiences any abnormal growth in the body, the instantaneous conclusion attracted in the mind is cancer. The swollen lymph node is also not insulated to this conclusion. Fortunately, the lymph nodes are enlarged or swollen most commonly by the underlying infection, the symptoms of which may be experienced or not and rarely by the malignant tumor. The other cause includes the present of autoimmune disorder. The appropriate approach is to get it diagnosed by an expert without jumping to the conclusion instantly.

Does Enlarged Lymph Node Mean Cancer?

It has been statistically seen that the relationship of the enlarged lymph node and the presence of tumor is rare. But it does not mean that the enlarged lymph node should not be taken seriously. It is advised that if you have noticed any swollen lymph node in absence of any symptom of infection, such as fever or bodyache, the physician should be consulted as soon as possible. The medical professional will try to identify the cause of swollen lymph node on the basis of following observations:

  1. Symptoms: If the patient does experience the characteristic symptoms of infection such as fever and bodyache, chances are there may be some underlying disease such as autoimmune disease or cancer.
  2. Nature of Node: The physician will monitor the size and growth of the node. If the node is smaller in size and is degrowing, then there would be no cause of concern. Also, if the node is rubbery to touch and movable then the reason of growth is not cancer. The swollen nodes due to cancer are hard to touch and are relatively immovable.
  3. Other Symptoms: The examination of the nodes is also complimented by the general symptoms of cancer such night sweats and fatigue.
  4. Biopsy: If the physician, after examination, thinks that there is a cause of concern then the physician may advice you to go for biopsy which is a confirmatory test for the underlying disease.

Causes Of Enlarged Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes are primarily responsible for identifying the infection and killing the causative agent such as bacteria. These are the defense system of the body because of the reason that they contain lymphocytes which includes B cells and T cells. The swelling in the lymph nodes may be due to the following reasons:

  1. Infection: Infection is one of the most common causes of swollen lymph nodes. The lymph nodes are swollen while fighting with the antigens or disease causing agents. The infection may include the viral infections such as flu or the bacterial infections such as tooth infection, ear infection, tuberculosis or toxoplasmosis.
  2. Autoimmune diseases: The lymph nodes are also swollen due to the development of autoimmune disease in the body. The autoimmune diseases which can be the cause of lymph node swelling are rheumatoid arthritis and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.
  3. Cancer: Rarely, the cause of swollen lymph nodes is cancer. In cancer, the size of lymph node is large, is in continuous growing mode and hard to touch. It should also be correlated with the other cancer symptoms such as night sweats and weigh loss.
  4. Stress: Although the direct relationship between the stress and the swollen lymph node is not noticed but many patients with stress reports about the enlarged lymph nodes. This may be due to the reason that chronic stress compromises the immune system, which may lead to the patient vulnerable to infection. The resulting infection may be the reason for enlarged lymph node.


Enlarged lymph node does not always mean cancer; rather it means cancer in rare circumstances. The cancer is caused due to rapidly dividing cells and forms a mass of cells known as tumor. However, the swollen lymph node may be due to the lymph nodes fighting against the infection or due to an autoimmune disease. The medical professional would diagnose the basis of underlying infection or other complimentary symptoms and advise accordingly for biopsy.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 19, 2018

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