Swollen Lymph Glands

Dr. Kolachalam, Swollen Lymph Glands



What & Where are the lymph glands?


We have lymph glands all over the body. They are an important part of the immune system, acting as a barrier to the spread of illness.

What are lymph nodes?  


Lymph nodes are an important component of the body’s immune system and help in fighting infections.

They are small, soft, round or oval structures that are found throughout the body and are connected to each other in chain-like (lymphatic chains) fashion by channels similar to blood vessels.  (see the photo) Each individual lymph node is covered by a capsule made up of connective tissue. Some are just under the skin and palpable (you can feel it), others are located deep within your body.

Within the capsule, lymph nodes contain certain kinds of immune cells. These cells are mainly lymphocytes, which produce proteins that capture and fight viruses and other microbes, and macrophages, which destroy and remove the captured material.


What does it mean when they are swollen?


Enlargement may indicate a problem. Usually they swell because of an infection, for example, in the throat or ear. Most often, swollen lymph glands decrease to their normal size when the infection is over. If they continue to grow or persist at an enlarged size, your doctor may recommend their removal.

Common places where lymph glands get enlarged are:

  • sides of the neck
  • the armpits
  • the groin


When should I see the doctor for swollen lymph nodes?


If swollen lymph nodes are associated with fevers, night sweats, or weight loss, and you do not have any obvious infection, you may need a through evaluation by a doctor.

Also, people who were appropriately treated for an infection but have persistent swollen lymph nodes may need to see their doctor.

If you have a known cancer, or were treated for one in the past and you notice new lymph nodes in the general area of the cancer, you may need to notify a physician.

Lymphedema is an accumulation of swelling that can take place in the arms, legs, head, neck, torso, breasts or genitals caused by inefficiency in the lymphatic system. Lymphedema can result from the treatment of breast cancer, especially when the lymph nodes and lymphatic structures are removed or damaged.


If I have a swollen lymph gland or node, is it cancer?


There are many causes for a lymph gland or node to be swollen, many of these causes are more common than cancer. It is also important to mention that swollen lymph nodes are not always a sign of an underlying disease. Sometimes they can be normal. Some of these common causes are:

  • Viral
  • Bacterial
  • Fungal
  • Parasite
  • Inflammation from Lupus or rheumatoid arthritis or medications
  • Genetic lipid storage disease
  • Transplant graft rejections
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Cancer

Many cancers can cause swelling of lymph nodes. These may be cancers that originate from the lymph nodes or blood cells such as lymphomas and leukemias. They may also be cancers that spread from another organ in the body (metastatic cancers). For example, breast cancer may spread to the nearest lymph nodes in the underarm (axilla), or lung cancer may spread to the lymph nodes around the collar bone.


How would Dr. Kolachalam diagnose my lymph gland?


  1. Physical examination, sight and touch
  2. Thorough medical history
  3. Ask about your symptoms – such as sore throat, fever and chills, fatigue, weight loss, need a complete list of medications, sexual activity, vaccination history, recent travels, the patient’s own and his/her family’s previous history of cancers if any, and so forth.
  4. CT Scan
  5. Biopsy


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