Lymph glands (also called lymph nodes) are pea-sized lumps of tissue that contain white blood cells. These help to fight bacteria, viruses and anything else that causes infection. They are an important part of the immune system and are found throughout the body.
Swollen lymph glands are usually a sign of infection and tend to go down when you recover. However, if the swelling continues, see your doctor.
The reason for saying this is: According to a new study published in the British Journal of General Practice, people who have persistently swollen neck glands may be at risk for lymphoma. These patients should be referred to oncologists for further investigation.
Risk of Cancer
Yes, cancer! The research has revealed the importance of persistent swollen lymph glands, particularly in the neck, as part of cancer. Of course, swollen glands are common with throat infections, but in cancer, they are usually larger and painless. It has been known for a long time that this could represent cancer- this study shows that the risk is higher than previously thought.
When Cancer is the Cause of Swollen Lymph Nodes
Less commonly, what appears to be a swollen gland, may be a cancerous growth. Generally, this is only the case if the lump:
- Slowly gets bigger
- Is in an unusual place
- Is painless and firm or hard when you touch it
- The cancer may have started somewhere else in the body, such as the breast, and spread to the nearest lymph glands (in this case, the lymph glands in the armpit). Alternatively, it could be cancer of the white blood cells, such as lymphoma or leukaemia.
- If you're middle-aged or older and have an unexplained, persistent lump or swelling in your neck, see your GP for an urgent referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist. This is to rule out nasopharyngeal cancer, a type of throat cancer.
- If you're a young adult with persistent swollen glands, the cause could be cancer of the lymph glands (although it's much more likely to be glandular fever).
It's important to see your doctor if your glands have been swollen for two weeks.
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