Lymph nodes are tiny, bean-shaped glands which are present throughout the body. They are a part of the lymphatic system, which in turn is a component of the immune system. Thus, lymph nodes play an important role in protecting the body against infections and diseases. Some of the main regions where lymph nodes are present include the groin, underarms, and neck. The lymph nodes under arm are known as axillary lymph nodes.
The lymph nodes under arm are larger in size and range from 20 to 30 in numbers. They can be categorized into the below listed groups.
- Brachial/humeral/lateral lymph nodes
- Apical/subclavicular/medial lymph nodes
- Subscapular/posterior axillary lymph nodes
- Pectoral/anterior axillary lymph nodes
- Central lymph nodes
Lymph nodes under arm
The underarm region comprises of about 25 axillary lymph nodes. They process lymph fluid passing from the breasts and the nearby region. The lymph nodes under arm can become inflamed, tender, or swollen due to the presence of a health condition such as breast cancer or breast infection.
If a doctor suspects a case of breast cancer, then a biopsy of the underarm lymph node is essential. It may also be noted that sentinel lymph nodes testing has significantly decreased the necessity of removing underarm lymph nodes for a biopsy.
Causes of swollen lymph nodes under arm
The presence of an infection or injury in the breasts or in the surrounding areas will trigger a response from the lymph nodes to fight the invasion. This may result in inflamed or painful lymph nodes. The infection can be due to simple causes, or can be result of severe skin infections such as MRSA. Some other causes of inflamed lymph nodes under arm include cat scratch disease, lymphoma, fatty growths, measles, chicken pox, HIV/AIDS,Herpes, STDs, lymphangitis, fungal infection, allergic reaction, mumps, reaction to vaccine, mononucleosis, shingles, etc.
The lymph nodes return to their normal size after the infection has been successfully treated. In case, lymph nodes under arm experience swelling due to presence of cancer, then a biopsy is essential to verify whether the cancer has metastasized. A lymph node under arm has to be removed for this purpose. However, removal of axillary lymph nodes can be avoided if a biopsy is performed on the sentinel lymph node.It may be noted that the lymph fluid passes through the sentinel lymph nodes before travelling to the lymph nodes under arm. Hence, the sentinel nodes are usually the first nodes to be affected by cancer.
Treatment of inflamed lymph nodes under arm
Swollen lymph nodes under arm which are minor can be treated with self-care methods and intake of over the counter pain killer drugs. If the is caused due to bacterial or viral infections, then they can be treated with medications.
Patients may note that all cases of swollen lymph nodes under arm should be checked by a doctor, as it can be an indicator of cancer. It is especially essential to seek medical attention when the swelling does not subside even after a month.