Lung Cancer Spread to Lymph Nodes

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
May 15, 2012

Lung cancer is one of the most feared forms of cancer, which develops silently without any symptoms until reaching its advanced stage. Cancer cells break off from the tumour spreading either through the lymphatic channel or bloodstream known as metastasis.

The cancer form spreads through the lymphatic channels and portions such as spleen and bone. Adrenal glands, liver and brain are the other areas to which the lung cancer may spread. Thereafter, cancer cells seek unaffected blood vessels and get attached to the body's blood and nutrient supply to cause further damage.

Lymph Nodes and Lung Cancer

  • There are three ways in which lung cancer cells can metastasise. It may spread through the lymphatic channel, through the bloodstream or spread locally near the tumour.
  • Lung cancer cells travelling through the lymphatic system are carried to lymph nodes.
  • Initially, lung cancer spreads to the lymph nodes close to the tumour, which are ascribed as regional lymph nodes.
  • The stage when lung cancer spreads to the lymph nodes close to the tumour is often referred to as regional disease or local spread.

Lung Cancer Spread in Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes to be affected by lung cancer spread initially depend on the location of tumour.

  1. Intrapulmonary lymph nodes: Intrapulmonary lymph nodes lie within the lungs, which are either in the outer regions of the lungs or in the region of the chest where arteries, veins and bronchi enter the lungs.
  2. Mediastinal lymph nodes: Mediastinal lymph nodes lie in the chest within the lungs.
  3. Extrathoracic lymph nodes: These lymph nodes include supraclavicular lymph nodes and scalene lymph nodes, which lie outside of the thorax.

Lymph nodes are also segregated on the basis of location of the tumour. Ipsilateral lymph nodes refer to the lymph nodes on the same side of the body as the tumour whereas contralateral lymph nodes lie on the other side of the chest from the tumour.

Symptoms of Lung Cancer Spreading through Lymph Nodes

The signs and symptoms that indicate the spread of lung cancer through lymph nodes are:

  1. Swollen neck.
  2. Swelling in the collar bone.
  3. Hoarseness as a result of pressure on nerves.
  4. Shortness of breath.

Lung Cancer Diagnosis for Lymph Nodes

After identification of lung cancer, a medical personnel will see if tumour has spread to lymph nodes or to other regions.

Tests for diagnosing the lung cancer spread to lymph nodes include:

  • Endobronchial Ultrasound.
  • Mediastinoscopy.
  • CT Scan or MRI.
  • PET Scan (in case of non-small cell lung cancer).
  • Lymph node biopsy.


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