Axillary Lymph Nodes
The lymph nodes which are part of the lymphatic system are a vital element of the immune system. Without them, we would be unable to fight and survive even mild bacterial or viral infections. There are different lymph node sections. One section is known as axillary lymph nodes.
What They Are Axillary Lymph Nodes
In layman’s terms, axillary lymph nodes are simply known as the cluster of nodes found on the armpit region. Medical experts further distinguish among different sections of the axillary nodes depending on the position and location. Like the other lymph nodes found throughout the body, these lymph nodes filter the lymph which may be carrying potentially harmful bacteria and viruses. The lymph circulating in the chest wall, arms and breast drain through the axillary lymph nodes.
Causes of Swelling in Axillary Lymph Nodes
The axillary nodes may also swell like other lymph nodes. Swelling and pain are usually observed when the body sections that drain through these nodes have an infection. In some cases for example, one may suffer from a cut on the arm region that gets infected. The lymph nodes on the armpit may then begin to produce immune system cells designed to fight the infection. General infections that affect other parts of the body may also cause the axillary nodes to swell. Some of these infections include chicken pox and shingles.
Swollen axillary lymph nodes caused by an infection have typical traits. They may be a few centimeters large but are soft or rubbery to the touch. They may also move from side to side when poked. Pain is also a normal symptom indicative of the immune system fighting the infection.
There are however more serious causes of swelling of the armpit lymph nodes. Cancer of the lymphatic system known as lymphoma may cause swelling in the armpit region as well as in other lymph node regions. Swollen axillary lymph nodes may also be signs of the spread of breast cancer. Cancerous growths differ from the painful swelling caused by infections. The swollen nodes may not be painful and they are often fixed, hard and unmoving. They may also be matted or connected to other rigid nodes in the region.
Checking Breast Cancer
The axillary lymph nodes are a vital part in the assessment of breast cancer. Doctors may proceed with a sentinel node biopsy when breast tumors or cancer is initially diagnosed. Using a blue dye, they will be able to locate the axillary node that will first be affected when the breast cancer cells spread. By performing a biopsy on the sentinel node, doctors will be able to determine if the cancer cells have indeed begun to spread.
In some cases, doctors may also choose to proceed with complete axillary lymph node dissection. In this procedure, most of the nodes are removed and examined for signs of the spread of the breast cancer cells.
Be vigilant. If the swelling in your axillary lymph nodes is not typical of the swelling caused by a known infection that is under treatment, you should see your doctor immediately.