Enlarged Cervical Lymph Nodes

Doctor examining a young boy for lymph node swelling.


Cervical lymph nodes are simply lymph nodes located in the neck. The medical term for the neck is cervix, though this term is rarely used.

Lymph nodes are small structures located all over the body around blood vessels and are a part of the lymph system of the body. Read more in Lymph Node Learning Hub.

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph system. It can affect any lymph nodes, and cervical lymph nodes are commonly affected.

Also Known As: Neck nodes

Cervical Lymph Node Swelling

The most common cause of cervical lymph node swelling is not lymphoma. In children, infections, and especially viral upper respiratory tract infections such as rhinovirus, influenza virus or adenovirus are most common. Other viruses such as the Epstein-Barr virus of mononucleosis, the varicella-zoster virus and HIV may be associated with neck lymph node swelling in children and adults.

Both bacteria and viruses can produce swollen lymph nodes in the neck region. When the cause is bacterial, likely culprits include certain types of Strep and Staph infections.

In addition to the neck, lymph nodes commonly swell in other areas such as the groin and underarms. Usually, just one area of nodes swells at a time. When more than one area of lymph nodes is becomes involved, it’s called generalized lymphadenopathy.

Malignancy is just one item in a long list of potential causes of swollen cervical lymph nodes.

A variety of different cancers can spread to the lymph nodes to produce cervical lymph node swelling. Lymphoma is cancer that actually begins in the lymph nodes.

Lymphoma and Cervical Lymph Nodes

Painless swelling of one or more lymph nodes -- often cervical lymph nodes -- is a key warning sign for lymphoma, and it may be one of the few outward signs of lymphoma early on.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or HL, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or NHL, are the two main categories of lymphoma. Generalized lymph node swelling is rarely seen in malignancies, however, it is usually seen in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to Mohseni and colleagues. In contrast, HL is distinguished by the localized involvement of the lymph nodes.

HL is rare in children younger than 10 years old. Most children with HL have painless lymph node swelling, and involvement of cervical lymph nodes is common. When children have NHL, clinical involvement in the head and neck is seen in only 5 to 10 percent, and most often it involves symptomatic cervical lymphadenopathy.

Overall, when lymph node involvement is limited to the neck, Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck and metastatic carcinomas are common malignancies in the neck region.

Nomenclature and Cervical Cancer

If the cervix makes you think of the Pap smear, childbirth, and female plumbing, take heart: the word ‘cervix’ actually refers to the neck, but also any neck-like structure; thus the name for the neck-like structure that connects to the lower end of the womb, or uterus, to the vagina.

While lymph nodes may become involved in cases of cervical cancer, they are not called cervical lymph nodes – they have other names such as paracervical, parametrial, hypogastric, etc.


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