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Reactive lymph nodes: Types, Causes and Treatment

By definition, the reactive lymph nodes refer to a condition of lymph nodes. Reagents because it react, to attacks from viruses and bacteria, which can cause infection or inflammation. In most cases it is not a serious disorder, usually being the symptom of an infection or inflammation in progress. The ailments affecting the lymph nodes can be of various types, depending on the cause that provokes, and therefore require different treatment. Let’s look more closely, what is behind reactive lymph nodes.

reactive lymph nodes

The lymphatic system

The lymphatic system is an essential part of the immune system, which helps fight infections or other diseases. This system is composed of a network of vessels that drain the fluid known as lymph, a whitish/ yellowish liquid that contains white blood cells (lymphocytes), proteins and some red blood cells, inside the lymph nodes, long ducts containing lymphatic fluid and specialized organs that involved in the immune system. The lymph nodes and organs eliminate the invading organisms or abnormal cells of lymphatic fluid, allowing the body to fight these harmful agents.

Lymph nodes, what is it?

It is the protagonists of the lymphatic, small lymph glands located along the lymph system. It is estimated that there are about 600, spread throughout the body, especially in the groin, armpits, abdomen, submandibular and neck. Lymph nodes play a crucial role as filters of the immune system, thanks to the action of cells that prevent the action of harmful microorganisms. Among the many causes of reactive lymph nodes also included autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

What are mammary glands?

A lump in the chest is, in medical terms, a breast lump, a lump or tumor in the breast, palpable that can be painful. This symptom is a frequent reason to consult the doctor. When these nodules are related to breast cancer, the first affected are the mammary nodes that are located in the axillary region. Therefore, specialists have the function of determining whether these lymph nodes present cancer cells. If so, the condition of the mammary glands will allow the doctor to determine, at what stage of development the cancer is and what is the most appropriate treatment.


The term reactive lymph nodes indicate the capacity of the nodes to defend themselves in a situation of potential danger. In fact, its size may increase due to immune cells present in them, what is called lymphadenopathy, in most cases linked to inflammatory processes in the lymph nodes. Rarely is a symptom of neoplastic disease. Another common symptom is noticed feeling pain or discomfort to the touch.


If lymph nodes are swollen in the area of the neck, the cause can be a viral infection, such as mononucleosis or bacterial such as tuberculosis, strep throat, fungal infections or leukemia. The increase of the submandibular lymph nodes could a symptom of decay, while the axillary lymph nodes could be suspected of breast cancer, toxoplasmosis and other infections. Diseases such as syphilis, lymphomas or tumors in the lower extremities can cause the reaction of the inguinal lymph nodes.

Diagnosis and treatment

Although one must not underestimate the symptoms of swollen lymph nodes, before alarm and worry excessively must consult with the doctor, the only one who will take the appropriate response. For better accuracy of diagnosis may be necessary ultrasound examination. Before applying any treatment, it is essential to know the symptoms and, above all, the underlying cause reactive lymph nodes and thereby its inflammation. Depending on the cause, your doctor will determine the treatment to follow.

lumph nodes and breast cancer

The Importance of Lymph Nodes for Staging of Breast Cancer

If the lymph nodes contain cancer cells is an important factor for the staging of breast cancer, treatment determination and prediction of survival. Although breast cancer has the potential to spread to other regions of the body for the first time, it most often extends to the lymph nodes of the armpits. This is known as regional broadcasting. From there, breast cancer can be metastasized (disseminated) in a systematic way to other areas of the body, such as the bones, liver, lungs or brain.

When a woman is diagnosed with invasive breast cancer (cancer that has invaded beyond the wall of the duct of the breast or the lobe and surrounding tissue of the breast), it is necessary to examine the axillary lymph nodes to determine if they also contain cancer.

Non-invasive breast cancer

Cancer cells are confined to the ducts and do not invade the fatty tissue and surrounding connective tissue of the breast. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is the most common form of noninvasive breast cancer (90%). Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) is less frequent and is considered a marker of increased risk for breast cancer.

Invasive breast cancer

Cancer cells traverse the ductal and lobular walls and invade the fat and connective tissue surrounding the breast. Cancer can be invasive without metastasis (dissemination) to the lymph nodes or other organs.

Determining whether lymph nodes are free of cancer or not is an essential part of the breast cancer staging process, as well as helping to determine treatment and prognosis.

Staging of breast cancer

Stages Tumor size Lymph node involvement Metastasis
I Less than 2 cm No No
II Between 2-5 cm No No
III More than 5 cm Yes, on the same side of the chest No
IV Not applicable Not applicable Yes

The standard way to examine lymph nodes is to perform a dissection of the axillary lymph nodes. This procedure is often performed during the same operation as a lumpectomy or mastectomy, involves the removal of 10 to 30 lymph nodes for pathological examination under the microscope. The most common side effect of an axillary lymph node dissection is lymphedema (chronic swelling) of the arm, which can affect up to 10% of patients. Lymphedema occurs when the normal lymphatic drainage process of the arm is broken or blocked, causing fluid to accumulate in the arm.

Another surgical option called sentinel node biopsy is used in some patients with breast cancer to determine if breast cancer is present in the lymph nodes. If the sentinel node (s) is cancerous, a complete axillary node dissection is usually performed.

There are some signs that allow assessing the probability that an enlarged lymph node is benign or not. For example, if a lymph node is less than one centimeter in diameter and is soft, gummy and tender, inflammation is more likely to be due to a benign cause. However, many physicians believe that a patient who has been diagnosed with breast cancer should generally be cautious and biopsy if there is any inflamed lymph node that persists beyond a month or two since it may contain cancer cells.

Exercise after mastectomy and removal of lymph nodes

It is important that each patient consults with their doctor when it is safe to start exercising and use the arm on the side of surgery after a mastectomy. While there are no contraindications for performing any number of exercises after full recovery, there are certain precautions that must be taken, especially those that have had lymph node dissection in the area.

Any minor injury to the skin on the side of the mastectomy can be more easily infected than an injury to the other arm. This is because lymphatic vessels have been disrupted and lymph nodes have been removed, leaving the arm more vulnerable to invading organisms, such as bacteria. Many women who have undergone a mastectomy and an axillary lymph node dissection experience dissection of inflammation in the arm and report a higher incidence of minor skin irritation or trauma. In addition, in cases where 30 or more lymph nodes have been removed, there may be an increased risk of thrombosis of the axillary vein, since the lymph nodes are usually located near the blood vessels and the inevitable scarring of the surgery may tie, twist or narrowing the blood vessels,

Physicians recommend combining arm exercises with rest periods, keeping it elevated above heart level for a few hours, to prevent undue swelling. Mastectomy patients should be careful not to exert too much intensity in order to avoid avoidable injuries. Something positive about exercise in these cases is that regular use of the muscles after a mastectomy will keep the joints flexible, stretch and smooth the scar tissue, help open new lymphatic vessels and promote blood flow, reducing clot formation.