Swollen lymph nodes in children: When to seek care

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 Although swollen lymph nodes (also known as swollen glands) are usually a sign of an infection or inflammation, they can, very infrequently, be a sign of cancer or a rare disorder.

Rachael Grace, MD, and Christopher Weldon, MD, PhD, co-directors of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center’s Node Assessment Program in Waltham, Mass., offer the following tips for families worried about “lumps and bumps” in their children.

Rachael Grace, MD

Lymph nodes are composed of small clusters of cells, known as lymphocytes, which filter bacteria, toxins, and other non-essential components out of bodily tissues. White blood cells within the lymph nodes fight infection, inflammation, and other diseases, including cancer.

Lymph nodes are found throughout the body, most commonly in the neck, groin, armpit, abdomen, and chest. Any number can be swollen at once, and in several places.

Viruses such as flu, mononucleosis, and the common cold can lead to swollen lymph nodes. Other causes are bacterial – including strep throat, infected cuts, and abscessed teeth – and some are fungal, such as ringworm.

In addition to swelling, your child’s lymph nodes might be red, draining, firm, and/or painful.

Christopher Weldon, MD, PhD

If your child’s symptoms persist for more than two weeks, you should take him or her to the doctor. In the Boston area, your child can be evaluated at the Node Assessment Program of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center in Waltham.

Expert physicians and surgeons in the program can evaluate your child and identify the  next steps for finding the cause of enlarged lymph nodes.

You can schedule an appointment online or call 888-733-4662.  

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