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Lymph nodes in the breast: know if it’s normal or a sign of cancer

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Lymph nodes help defend the body from harmful substances, including cancer cells

Lymph nodes are natural structures that are part of our immune system, responsible for filtering harmful substances such as viruses, bacteria and even cancer cells. Lymph nodes are present throughout the body. But, specifically analyzing the region close to the breasts, it is more common to find them in the armpits.

“We can have lymph nodes in the breast, called intramammary lymph nodes, but are infrequent. The most common thing is that we have lymph nodes only in the armpits”, explains oncologist Wesley Pereira Andrade.



Also called lymph nodes and, popularly, tongues, these structures are natural in the body and, when altered, are not necessarily indicative of cancer. Most lymph nodes enlarge due to benign conditions, such as inflammatory and infectious processes.

To know if the lymph nodes in the armpit or in the breasts – the latter being rarer – are swollen, it is first necessary to palpate the region. If you feel a kind of “lump”, it may be a sign of some change. If this symptom persists for more than two or three weeks, the recommendation is to seek medical help.

This is because, although less common, altered lymph nodes can also signal some type of cancer. “It is important to understand that there is cancer that is born from the lymph node, called lymphoma, and there is cancer that is born in other places and spreads to the lymph nodes, called lymph node metastasis”, points out the oncologist. The second type can even be a consequence of breast cancer.

Lymph nodes and breast cancer

A tumoral lymph node is distinguished by being painless and having a slow and progressive growth. That is, it is a lump that only grows, without presenting a reduction in size. Upon observing these features, the doctor may order a biopsy.



If breast cancer causes lymph node metastasis to the breast or armpit, the first part to be affected will be the sentinel lymph node. After all, he is one of the most important in this defense structure, in charge of carrying out the first “filtering” of harmful substances. Soon, he would be the first to retain the tumor cells.

“It is extremely common to remove this sentinel lymph node when we are going to have breast cancer surgery,” says Andrade. To identify it – since its shape is identical to the others – there are two tactics: one includes injecting a blue substance in the region and another is done by injecting a radioactive contrast agent into the breast.

It is more common than breast cancer spreads to the lymph nodes in the armpit than for lymph nodes in the breast (as these are rarer). In these cases, treatment may include both axillary lymphadenectomy – removal of these nodes from the armpit – and chemotherapy.

Is it normal to show lymph nodes on a mammogram?

Lymph nodes can show up on a mammogram. Its presence, however, does not necessarily indicate any pathology. This means that they can be visible and still look their usual way.

Just be careful not to confuse them with cysts. “The cyst consists of a water ball that often appears in the breasts. The intramammary lymph nodes are defense cells, commonly present in the armpit”, reinforces the oncologist.

In any case, it is worth mentioning that lymph nodes in the breast or armpit are natural and essential for the proper functioning of the body, and their presence is not exclusively related to cancerous conditions.



Content for educational purposes only. Consult a Doctor.

The translator user relied on the following source:

Minha Vida Website – REF99827

Disclaimer – (English version>) This content has been prepared based on information from research, additional publications, or the translation/verification work of a volunteer editor of this web council. This is a non-profit service. It is strongly recommended that all details and information published be carefully verified. We never allow medication recommendations, medication package inserts or any medication guidance. We never allow partisan politics as information.

Isenção de responsabilidade – (versão em português): Este conteúdo foi preparado com base em informações de pesquisas, publicações adicionais ou no trabalho de tradução/verificação de um editor voluntário deste conselho web. Este é um serviço sem fins lucrativos. É altamente recomendável que todos os detalhes e informações publicadas sejam verificadas cuidadosamente. Nunca permitimos recomendações de medicamentos, bulas ou qualquer orientação sobre medicamentos. Nunca permitimos a política partidária como base para checagem. Para mais informações, leia nossos termos.

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