Lymph nodes are small, round interconnected structures throughout the body that play an integral role in immune function, helping to fight off disease and infection. The lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, the body’s natural drainage and filtration system, collecting and funneling out fluid, metabolic waste, toxins, and bacteria and viruses that can pose a serious risk to a person’s health and well being.
Lymph nodes contain immune cells, and when the system is functioning properly they help to fight off toxins and illness. When there is an infection or a proliferation of toxins or cancer cells, the lymph nodes can become swollen and inflamed, indicating that there is a problem.
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Lymph Nodes and Breast Cancer
Lymph nodes are located in various locations throughout the body. In some places they are located deep within the body cavity near vital organs like the lungs, or near the bowels; in other parts of the body they can be much closer to the surface of the skin, such as the neck or armpits. Cancer can either originate in the lymph nodes, known as lymphoma, or it can originate and spread from another part of the body, such as the breasts.
In addition to the potential for breast cancer to metastasize (spread) to the lymph nodes, women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer are also at risk for developing a condition known as lymphedema. Lymphedema causes mild to severe swelling in the arms and legs due to a blockage that prevents the lymphatic system from properly draining fluid after lymph nodes have either been removed, or targeted with cancer treatments, like radiation and chemotherapy. With nowhere to go, fluid builds up in the affected limb and causes swelling.
Lymph Node and Cancer Testing and Treatment
Sentinel Lymph Node Mapping
Sentinel lymph nodes are most often the first to be affected when cancer spreads from another part of the body. Lymph node mapping is a procedure used before a biopsy to help locate the sentinel nodes, using a targeted injection of radioactive dye to help make the nodes visible on a diagnostic scan.
Once the sentinel nodes targeted by the dye are identified, they are surgically removed and sent to a pathology lab to be tested for cancer cells.
Axillary Lymph Node Dissection
If lymph nodes are found to contain cancer cells, a lymph node dissection is the procedure used to surgically remove them.
Contact a Breast Cancer Specialist Today
For compassionate, professional diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, do not hesitate to contact Dr. Sadia Khan, a fellowship-trained breast surgeon at Hoag Breast Care Center in Newport Beach. Please call 949.390.9381 to schedule a comprehensive consultation today!
Next, read about Normal Breast Anatomy.