Cancer can develop in the lymph nodes in two ways. It can start there as a primary cancer, or it can spread into the lymph nodes from a primary cancer elsewhere in the body.
Cancer that starts in the lymph nodes is called lymphoma. If cancer spreads into the lymph nodes from another part of the body, this is known as secondary or metastatic cancer.
Symptoms of secondary cancer in the lymph nodes
The most common sign of cancer cells in the lymph nodes is that one or more of the lymph nodes becomes enlarged or feels hard. However, if there are only a small number of cancer cells in the lymph nodes, they may feel normal. It's only possible to tell whether a cancer is present by removing part or all of the lymph node and examining the cells in a laboratory. It's important to remember that lymph nodes can also be enlarged for other reasons, such as infections.
If the enlarged lymph nodes are deep inside the chest or abdomen, they may cause pressure on surrounding organs or structures. This can lead to symptoms like breathlessness or backache.
Sometimes a lymph node, or group of nodes, may appear larger than they should on a scan, such as an ultrasound scan, CT scan or MRI scan. This may be a sign that there is a secondary cancer in the lymph nodes.
*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support