We will all agree that cancer is a scary thing to think about. When cancer is mentioned, we usually think about immediate death. We’ve become so scared of it that every minor health problem we have makes us think that we’re suffering from this disease. It is common knowledge is that it usually starts when something goes wrong with our immune system. Lymph nodes are the ones that are in charge of it and it is only logical to think that if they are swollen something is not right. Does this mean cancer though?
Should we think of the worst when we see our lymph nodes swollen?
The answer is simple – absolutely NOT! Swollen lymph nodes are caused by numerous factors beginning from viruses, to other infections, bacteria and inflammations. Strep throat, along with simple cold is in most cases the origin of this inconvenience. It is true, however, that some types of cancer could cause the lymph glands to enlarge. It is usually Hodgkin’s or Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma which we can simply explain as lymph gland cancer. It is even more frequent that the swollen glands are a consequence of a cancer that grows on nearby organs such as breast cancer or lung cancer. Be that as it may, cancer is definitely not the first thing you should think of when you notice lymph gland enlargement, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit your doctor and have that checked!
The reasons you shouldn’t panic
Dozens of tissue packs, nose drops, liters of tea and soup and tons of fruits with which you’re trying to compensate for all the days you didn’t eat them- in other words, you’re battling a cold. Your nose will probably be runny, your head will feel heavy, you’ll cough and everything will be in slow motion. One more thing that you’ll probably feel is the swollenness of your glands which can make everything super uncomfortable, starting from swallowing to even talking. This is pretty common in such a condition and is nothing that should be worrying you. As a matter of fact, it should be gone in a matter of few days or a week.
Streptococcal pharyngitis or strep throat usually hits school aged kids (5-15). It can be recognized by a sore throat, redness of the tonsils on which you can sometimes see white patches and, of course, your neck glands will feel somewhat puffy. You’ll also experience sudden fever, headache, nausea, abdominal pain etc. This is luckily another illness that very often causes the gland enlargement but is not at all life-threatening.
When should you worry then?
The swollen gland caused by the aforementioned infections should last up to a week or 2, depending on the severity of the infection and your overall immune system. Persisting neck glands is what should ring the ‘’I have to go to the doctor” bell. This still doesn’t mean anything ultimately serious is happening, but it is still not a sign to be easily cast away. You’re encouraged to check the nodes by yourself first. If they feel hardened or rubbery, if you have a warm feeling around them or some redness is showing up stop the self-inspection and let the professionals do their job.
What sort of cancer do swollen glands show?
Strictly saying this is neck gland cancer that usually starts with the overproduction of white cells in the nodes. The symptoms of the disease include painless swelling of the nodes along with other symptoms that are similar to a cold (fever, sweating, weight-loss, fatigue). Sometimes the growing gland can press against other organs which can feel sometimes as back pain which is also why lymphoma is so often misdiagnosed.
This is also an immunity disease (often confused with lymphoma). It starts with the blood-forming cells in the spleen. What happens is that new white cells are made with a damage in their DNA. These bad blood cells don’t go away at the speed normal white blood cells do which means that they’ll soon overwhelm them in number and eventually lead our system to break down. As with many other illnesses of this kind, it hides behind symptoms characteristic of the flu, but what you can also watch out for is anemia and poor blood-clotting.
This is a cancer that usually attacks your lungs which is why your glands will very probably get swollen. The most obvious sign that you’ve contracted this is if you cough up blood. However, as many wolves use sheep skin in the stories to trick their prey, tuberculosis might be lurking from the bush of the flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue and unintentional weight loss.
Breast/Lung cancer metastasis
The vicinity of breasts and lungs to our neck makes it very possible for the glands there to contract cancer. When these parts of the body already have cancer that is in metastasis, a part of it can break off and end up in your lymph system causing another cancer to grow.
It would be thrilling for us to say that swollen lymph node doesn’t mean cancer in any case. Unfortunately, there is actually a range of cancers it could indicate. However, you should know that in 90% of the cases, swollen nodes are harmless and very treatable. By no means should you disregard this as a symptom. Some of the tumors such as lymphoma have very high rate of survival, and discovering this in early phases is only possible if you let the doctor examine the nodes thoroughly.