Several mechanisms can cause the lymph nodes to enlarge (swell).
- Infection (lymphadenitis): This can increase the number of white blood cells, which multiply in response to stimulation with a foreign substance (antigen). Swollen lymph nodes under the arm (in the armpit) can occur due to infection or injury to the arm or hand. Some infections (mononucleosis or "mono," HIV, and fungal or parasitic infections) may cause generalized swelling of lymph nodes throughout the body.
- Virus: Immune reaction to a generalized infection in the body such as viral infections that can occur with the common cold as well as more serious infections such as HIV.
- Inflammation: Infiltration with inflammatory cells during infection or inflammation in a region of a given lymph node. Some immune disorders, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, may also cause generalized lymph node swelling.
- Cancer: Infiltration with malignant cells (metastases) brought to the node with the lymph flowing from an area of certain types of cancer. In rare cases, breast cancer or lymphomamay cause swollen lymph nodes in the armpit. Rarely, a person may have a node or group of nodes that grows rapidly and becomes hard and can not be easily moved around under the skin. These may indicate a tumor.
- Cancer of the blood: Uncontrolled, malignant multiplication of lymphocytes as in lymphoma or leukemia.
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