The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. The primary function of the lymphatic system is to transport lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body
lymphedema, Hamrick noted. This most commonly occurs in women who have had surgery to remove a breast cancer. Part of the operation to remove the breast cancer involves removing lymph nodes in the armpit.
The more lymph nodes removed the higher the risk of chronic bothersome swelling and pain due to lymphedema in the arm, Hamrick explained. “Fortunately modern surgical techniques are allowing for fewer lymph nodes to be removed, and thus fewer cases of severe lymphedema for breast cancer survivors.”
Castleman disease is a group of inflammatory disorders that cause lymph node enlargement and can result in multiple-organ dysfunction, according to the Castleman Disease Cooperative Network. While not specifically a cancer, it is a similar to a lymphoma and is often treated with chemotherapy. It can be unicentric (one lymph node) or multicentric, involving multiple lymph nodes.
Lymphangiomatosis is a disease involving multiple cysts or lesions formed from lymphatic vessels, according to the Lymphangiomatosis & Gorham's Disease Alliance. It is thought to be the result of a genetic mutation.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diseases of the lymphatic system are usually diagnosed when lymph nodes are enlarged, Hamrick noted. This may be discovered when the lymph nodes become enlarged enough to be felt ("palpable lymphadenopathy") or are seen on imaging studies such as CT scans or MRIs.
The majority of enlarged lymph nodes are not dangerous; they are the body's way of fighting off an infection, such as a viral upper respiratory infection. If the lymph nodes become significantly enlarged and persist longer than the infection then they are more worrisome. There is no specific size cutoff, but typically nodes that persist at larger than a centimeter are more worrisome and warrant examination by a doctor.
Common symptoms of any lymphatic disorder include swelling