Lymph nodes are an important part of the body’s immune system. They are located throughout the body and help to attack germs and fight infection. A swollen lymph node is a physical sign of a health problem. It could be an infection or cold, injury, or in some cases, cancer. A cancer diagnosis is only confirmed through a biopsy and often leaves people wondering: is cancer of the lymph nodes terminal?
First, to perform a lymph node biopsy, doctors remove a fluid sample from one of the infected lymph nodes and look at the tissue up close under a microscope. Second, if cancer is detected, more tests are necessary to determine how far it has spread and where the tumors have originated from. At this point, it can then be determined which stage of cancer is present and whether it is terminal.
Cancerous tumors can develop anywhere in the body and eventually travel to the lymph nodes and other areas of the lymphatic system. When cancer cells escape tumors they may die off before they can begin growth somewhere else, but if they settle, grow, and continue to spread, this is referred to as metastasis.
What happens when cancer spreads to the lymph nodes? If cancer has metastasized, it could indicate the cancer is in a later stage and require more aggressive treatment. However, if cancerous cells in the lymph nodes are found near the original tumor site, it could mean the metastatic lymph node cancer is in an early stage and can be treated before the lymph node cancer begins to spread around the body and to another nearby lymph node.1
What Is Cancer of the Lymph Nodes?
When cancer originates in the lymph nodes or other areas of the lymphatic system, it’s referred to as lymphoma.2 The most common types are Hodgkin lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In rare instances, there’s also a chance for the development of lymphoma of the skin. If you’re wondering, “Is lymphoma hereditary,” we cover this question in our latest blog article.
People with Hodgkin lymphoma usually experience enlarged lymph nodes with a small number of Reed-Sternberg cells present surrounded by normal immune cells. With classic Hodgkin lymphoma, which accounts for 9 out of 10 cases of this type of cancer, there are four subtypes that may develop.3 These are:
- Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma is the most common and tends to start in the lymph nodes in the neck or chest. Though it is more prevalent in teens and young adults, it can develop at any age.
- Mixed cellularity Hodgkin lymphoma is the second most common subtype and occurs mainly in the lymph nodes found in the upper half of the body. It’s mostly detected in people with HIV infection and affects mostly children and the elderly.
- Lymphocyte-rich Hodgkin lymphoma is a rarer subtype and usually occurs in the upper half of the body in a few lymph nodes.
- Lymphocyte-depleted Hodgkin lymphoma is the rarest subtype of this type of cancer and occurs mainly in older people with HIV infection. It’s mostly found in lymph nodes in the stomach, spleen, liver, and/or bone marrow.
Alternatively, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer that starts in the lymphocytes, or white blood cells in the immune system and most often affects adults. It typically starts in lymph nodes or other lymph tissue and is categorized based on whether the B cells or T cells are affected.
Both B cells and T cells are responsible for protecting the body against germs, bacteria, and other damage to the immune system. Lymphoma cells can develop through either, though B-cell lymphoma is most common.4
How to Detect Early Signs of Cancerous Lymph Nodes
When cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes, there are symptoms that will appear. These may include:
- Lymph node swelling or detectable lumps in the neck, under your arm, or in your groin area
- Shortness of breath
- Body pain
There are patients that will experience all of these symptoms and some that will experience none. Therefore, a follow-up question may be: is cancer of the lymph nodes terminal if there are more symptoms?
The fact is symptoms vary based on where cancer has spread to and how aggressive it is. It’s important to identify cancerous growths immediately to prevent their spread to other areas. When isolated to a certain region, the chances of it being terminal are less likely.
Diagnosing Cancer of the Lymph Nodes
In addition to a lymph node biopsy, the TNM (tumor, number, metastasis) system is commonly used to issue a diagnosis and determine which type of treatment is best. The ‘T’ refers to the size of the tumor or cancerous growth. The ‘N’ refers to the number of lymph nodes that contain cancerous cells. And, the ‘M’ is for metastasis, which refers to cancer that’s spread to areas far from the originating tumor.5
This categorization is used in addition to other diagnostic tests and tools to determine the cancer stage such as:
- Imaging tests – X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and other types of imaging tests can provide a clearer picture and more information about where the cancer is located and how much is present.
- Endoscopy exams – An endoscope is a thin, lighted tube with a video camera attached that looks around on the inside of the body for cancerous areas.
In general, cancers assigned as Stage I are less advanced and have a better prognosis and response to treatment. Whereas, a higher stage indicates that the cancer has spread further and requires a more intense or multiple types of treatment. Other factors that affect treatment are:
- Location of the tumor – Even if cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, determining where the tumor originates can affect the prognosis and treatment.
- Blood levels – The blood levels of tumor markers can also affect which stage is assigned during a cancer diagnosis. For example, the level of prostate-specific antigen in the blood is a measure to account for stage assignment for prostate cancer.
- Person’s age – How old a patient is at the time of diagnosis can also affect the outlook and the kind of treatment prescribed.
Minimally Invasive, Alternative Cancer Therapies
Since not all cancer diagnoses are the same, neither are the types of treatment administered. Creating a customized course of care is based on the stage, type, and reaction to cancer treatment a person may have. For example, a person experiencing stage 1 of cancer in the lymph nodes may not require as aggressive or as frequent of treatment as someone who has been diagnosed with a later stage.
Fortunately, there are multiple alternative therapies that have proven effective to help treat cancer and give people options for their care. A few of these include:
This type of alternative cancer treatment uses your body’s immune cells to target cancerous cells. T cells naturally destroy pathogens and cancer cells. T cells have activity-regulating checkpoints that turn off their offensive potential upon contact with healthy cells. Cancer cells take advantage of this and continue to grow and spread. Immunotherapy uses modified immune cells that can function even upon encountering tumor cells, prevent deactivation, and ultimately eliminate their advancement.
With immunotherapy, sample T cells are obtained and returned to the system intravenously, topically with creams, or orally with pills or tablets. This method of care is less invasive and comes with fewer side effects than conventional cancer treatment.
Dendritic Cell Therapy
Dendritic cell-targeted therapy is a specialized form of immunotherapy that has become increasingly administered since its approval in 2010. Research has shown evidence of its therapeutic and protective antitumor immunities, particularly for cancer patients with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, melanoma, and glioma.
This type of treatment works by isolating dendritic cells, which are the most potent type of antigen-presenting cells, with tumor antigen-loaded mature dendritic cells and administering them through a vaccine.
Sonodynamic therapy combines low-intensity ultrasound with unique chemical agents (sonosensitizers). This method is used to generate reactive oxygen species, which can prevent tumor growth and kill off cancerous cells.
This process may be repeated for several days or weeks, depending on your specific treatment plan. It is used as an alternative cancer treatment or is sometimes used to increase the effectiveness of traditional types of care, such as chemotherapy.
This type of cancer causes natural systemic enzymes to neutralize cancer cells and shrink tumors while promoting immune function. The PEG-KYNAse enzyme specifically has been shown to support the immune system’s ability to stop tumor growth and kill cancer cells. Simultaneously, this type of systemic enzyme therapy can also enhance nutritional health in patients experiencing weight loss and malnutrition as a side effect of their cancer diagnosis.
There are a few of the many alternative cancer therapies available to treat tumors and cancerous cells in their various stages. Not all cancers of the lymph nodes are terminal cancer. Many can be treated and eliminated with time.
Furthermore, a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean one set path for treatment. With the increased availability and research supporting holistic therapies, it gives patients an alternative to traditional treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The type and frequency will vary from person to person. An effective plan is based on several factors, customized to the patient, and monitored for progress. There are different avenues to choose from to ensure the best possible care for you.
Additional Questions? Reach out to Immunity Therapy Center today to learn more about alternative cancer treatment options.
Written By: Dr. David Alvarez
Dr. David Alvarez is a Board Certified Medical Doctor from Universidad Xochicalco and Certified by the American Heart Association (Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support).
Dr. Alvarez has been collaborating with Dr. Bautista as an Assistant Medical Director at the Immunity Therapy Center for over 6 years. He provides daily on site patient care and participates on the medical board on research and development of patient treatment plans and programs. Dr. Alvarez is a knowledgeable and compassionate Doctor committed to helping patients get to where they want to be health wise through a more holistic and comprehensive approach.
- Healthline.com. What Happens When Cancer Spreads to the Lymph Nodes? https://www.healthline.com/health/what-happens-when-cancer-spreads-to-the-lymph-nodes
- American Cancer Society. Lymphoma Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lymphoma.html
- American Cancer Society. What Is hodgkin’s Lymphoma? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/hodgkin’s-lymphoma/about/what-is-hodgkin’s-disease.html
- American Cancer Society. What Is Non-hodgkin’s Lymphoma? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-hodgkin’s-lymphoma/about/what-is-non-hodgkin’s-lymphoma.html
- American Cancer Society. Cancer Staging. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis/staging.html
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.