What is lymphadenopathy?
Swelling of the lymph nodes — a condition called lymphadenopathy — is a common condition in children. It is most often due to an infection, such as strep throat or even the common cold, or some other benign condition. When the infection begins to clear, the lymph nodes go back to their regular size. In some unusual cases the enlarged nodes may be a sign of cancer; however, in the vast majority of children, lymphadenopathy is not a cancer symptom.
Prompt Comprehensive Assessment for Enlarged Lymph Nodes in Children
If your child has enlarged lymph nodes that don’t seem to be getting smaller after some time, your pediatrician or family doctor may refer you for more extensive testing to determine the cause. The MSK Kids Lymphadenopathy Clinic at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is a multidisciplinary clinic that unites the expertise of world-class pediatric hematologist-oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, interventional radiologists and infectious disease doctors to examine children with lymphadenopathy through one integrated program. From diagnostic testing to treatment and follow-up, your child can receive all the care they need.
What do lymph nodes do?
Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped structures throughout the body, clustering in areas such as the neck, underarms, chest, abdomen, and groin, as well as other parts of the body. Lymph nodes filter substances that travel through the lymphatic fluid, and they contain white blood cells that help the body fight infection and disease.
What can cause lymph nodes to get bigger?
When your child is exposed to a bacterial or viral infection, lymph nodes can swell as the body produces more white blood cells to fight the infection. For example, children with strep throat may have swollen lymph nodes nearby in the neck.
Less commonly, enlarged lymph nodes are due to more serious conditions such as:
- Acute or chronic leukemia — cancers of the white blood cells
- Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin lymphoma — cancers of the lymphatic system
- Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH) — a rare disorder that causes the body to make too many histiocytes, a small subtype of white blood cells
- A sign of another cancer that has metastasized to the lymph nodes
What You Can Expect From Your Visit
When you schedule a consultation for your child with our Lymphadenopathy Clinic specialists, we can usually arrange for an appointment within 24 business hours, and sometimes the same day. We offer the following care and services in one place:
- Coordinated and convenient care. You will see a pediatric hematologist-oncologist, a pediatric surgeon, and other members of our team in the same day — either together or one at a time. We understand how important it is to get your child evaluated completely and comprehensively, and we assess your child as fully as possible during your first visit.
- Full-service testing. Our physicians will determine which tests your child needs. Blood tests, chest x-rays, and sonograms will be done the same day, if needed. Some test results may be ready the same day while others are usually available soon after.
- Lymph node biopsy. If your child needs a lymph node biopsy, we will help arrange that procedure for a future visit with the surgeon you met or one of their colleagues. Lymph nodes are examined by our expert hematopathologists; these are doctors with advanced training in the diagnosis of blood cancers and blood disorders.
- Determining next steps. Depending on the cause of your child’s swollen lymph nodes, we may connect you with other doctors, . If the hematologist-oncologist and surgeon feel that your child should see an infectious disease doctor before taking any other steps, they will arrange for this appointment too. Other physicians may also be consulted, such as rheumatologists, who are experts in joint diseases and autoimmune disorders, sometimes a cause of enlarged lymph nodes. Based on your child’s evaluation, we will develop a set of recommendations for their care.
- Immediate connection with excellent pediatric cancer care. If our tests show that your child has cancer, we can make immediate appointments so treatment can begin as soon as possible. We may need to do additional testing—such as full genomic testing onsite to identify the molecular changes in tumor cells affecting your child’s cancer—to possibly help us select a more effective therapy.
Why should I come to a cancer center when my child may not have cancer?
A pediatric cancer program such as MSK Kids offers the experience, knowledge, and compassion to understand and treat all causes of lymphadenopathy. We understand it can be scary to come to a cancer center when there is a very good chance that your child does not have cancer. If your child receives such a diagnosis, though, you can take comfort in knowing that you are in an extraordinarily experienced and compassionate place to begin their care. Finally, if your child’s swollen lymph nodes are not a sign of cancer, you can rest assured that we took every step to rule it out.