by Dr. Goli Vasu Babu, Consultant Medical, Haemato-oncology & Bone marrow transplant Physician, HCG Vijayawada
Cancer treatment is challenging, and each patient’s body reacts in a different way to the surgery, medicines, and subsequent therapies. One of the foremost signs your oncologist would investigate while diagnosing cancer is if the malignant cells have spread to other parts of the body.
Certain types of cancers tend to spread to other areas of the body as they progress, and the first to get affected are lymph nodes via the lymphatic system. Cancer cells spreading to other parts of the body from their original location is known as metastasis.
What Is A Lymphatic System?
The lymphatic system plays a major role in the immune system, and it is connected by a series of nodes and vessels. Lymph vessels transport lymph fluid containing white blood cells, which help in fighting infections. Lymph nodes are tiny structures, and their primary function is to filter foreign substances, cancer cells, and infections from the lymph fluid.
If your oncologist found cancer cells in the lymph nodes, it means that cells have reached the lymph nodes via lymph vessels, and the cancer is spreading to other parts of the body.
At What Stage Do Cancer Cells Spread To Lymph Nodes?
The rate at which cancer cells spread to a person’s lymph nodes depends completely on the type of cancer they have. While some cancers tend to spread more quickly, other malignant cells develop slowly and reach the lymph nodes at a slow pace. It is tough to predict the effect the cancer cells on lymph nodes, and it can only be detected with the help of advanced imaging tests like PET-CT and a biopsy for its staging.
Also called Carcinoma in situ, it means that the abnormal cells are present but have not spread
Stages 1, 2, and 3:
These stages confirm the presence of cancer cells, and the higher the stage, the more spread of cancer has happened.
Stage 4 indicates that cancer has spread not only to the lymph nodes but to other organs distant from the original site of tumor.
How Do I Know If The Cancer Had Spread To Lymph Nodes?
Lymph nodes are small structures, and it may be tough to identify cancer cells in these nodes at the initial stages and do not appear swollen. It is also not possible to notice changes in the lymph nodes that are deep inside the body. However, the classic symptoms of metastatic cancer include:
- Severe fatigue and loss of energy
- Unintended and drastic weight loss
- Excruciating pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Feeling uneasy and lack of appetite
How Is It Diagnosed?
A biopsy is a sure-shot method to detect cancer cells in lymph nodes. Your doctor would perform a biopsy and collect lymph nodes near the primary location of the tumor and send it to the lab for testing.
How To Read The Results?
If the results indicate microscopic or minimal, it means that only a few cancer cells were detected in the lymph node.
If it defines as gross, macroscopic, or significant, it is indicative of a large number of cancer cells in the lymph node.
An extracapsular extension means that the cancer cells have reached outside the walls of the lymph node.
How Is Cancer At This Stage Treated?
The treatment protocol depends on the type of cancer, the health history of the patient, and how far the cancer cells have metastasized into lymph nodes.
Your doctor would first surgically remove primary cancer and also the affected lymph nodes. The other treatment options besides surgery include:
- Multiple cycles of chemotherapy, which uses advanced drugs to kill cancer cells
- Radiation therapy, where high-energy particles are targeted precisely at the cancer cells to destroy them
- Immunotherapy boosts the patient’s immune system to combat cancer cells
- Targeted therapy uses medications that can identify and attack only cancer cells
As it is always said, early detection of cancer cells in the body plays an extremely imperative role in the subsequent treatment.
If you have noticed any abnormal changes in the body functions, do not hesitate to reach out to your doctor at the earliest.
Do not refrain from seeking medical help and stay strong to defeat cancer.