Brenda Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA
Lymph node cancer, or lymphoma, is a group of cancers that affects the lymphatic system, part of the body's immune system, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. In lymphoma, infection-fighting cells called lymphocytes multiply uncontrollably, frequently collecting in the lymph nodes and forming masses or tumors. The two major categories of lymphoma are Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Knowing the warning signs of lymph node cancer can help you recognize symptoms early.
Enlarged Lymph Nodes
Enlarged lymph nodes, or lymphadenopathy, can sometimes be a warning sign of lymph node cancer. Lymph nodes that are enlarged from cancer are sometimes painless but not always, according to an article by Dr. Robert Ferrer in the October 15, 1998, issue of "American Family Physician." Enlarged lymph nodes can be felt under the jaw, above the collarbone, under the arms and in the groin. When an enlarged lymph node occurs without other symptoms, or is accompanied by fevers, night sweats and possible unexplained weight loss, a biopsy is commonly performed to check for cancer cells.
Drenching sweats that happen during sleep are defined as night sweats, and they may be a sign of lymph node cancer. Most frequently, night sweats related to lymph node cancer occur with Hodgkin's lymphoma, although non-Hodgkin's lymphoma sufferers may also experience them. Night sweats are due to fevers and are sometimes the only symptom patients present to their physicians with, according to a 2003 article titled "Diagnosing Night Sweats" in the journal "American Family Physician."
Fever can be a sign of lymph node cancer. Hodgkin's lymphoma commonly causes fevers that occur in an unusual pattern. Called Pel-Ebstein fevers, several days of high fevers may alternate with a normal or even below-normal temperature that lasts for days or weeks, according to The Merck Manuals Home Edition. Fevers can be accompanied by chills and night sweats.
Chest Pain, Cough and Shortness of Breath
Enlarged lymph nodes in the chest can cause chest pain, cough and difficulty breathing as they press on the lungs. Coughing and shortness of breath can also result from lymphoma cancer cells invading the lung tissue, Merck explains.
Unexplained weight loss is a common sign of lymph node cancer. Swelling of lymph nodes can block blood flow in the superior vena cava, which is the vessel that brings blood from the head back to the heart, causing swelling of the face, neck and arms. Swelling of the legs and feet, a hoarse voice, a full or bloated feeling in the abdomen, lack of energy, and itching are also possible signs of lymph node cancer, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.