What is axillary lymphadenopathy?

Axillary lymphadenopathy is a condition in which the lymph nodes in the axillary region, commonly known as the armpit, become enlarged. The condition can be diagnosed through a physical exam or imaging studies. Symptoms may include pain or swelling in the armpit. The cause of lymphadenopathy can be diagnosed through laboratory studies and through a biopsy of the enlarged lymph tissue. Some common causes of the condition include cancer, infection, or trauma.

The diagnosis of axillary lymphadenopathy is typically made after the discovery of lumps or bumps in the axillary region. Sometimes patients can notice these lumps on their own. In other cases, doctors or other health professionals can make the diagnosis based on a complete physical exam. Sometimes enlarged lymph nodes can be identified on imaging studies such as computed tomography (CT) scans.

While some patients have symptoms associated with axillary lymphadenopathy, others have no symptoms. Patients may have tenderness or pain in the region of the enlarged lymph node. In other cases, the swelling and enlargement may be painless.

Finding axillary adenopathy in a patient is important because it serves as a clue that could point toward a diagnosis of underlying disease. Patients who develop this condition should undergo routine laboratory work to evaluate for underlying systemic diseases, as the lymph nodes play a critical role in the body's immune system. Often, patients with large lymph nodes have a biopsy in which a needle is used to take a sample of the node. Examining the tissue under a microscope can provide critical clues as to why the lymph node enlargement has occurred.

Various types of cancer can cause axillary lymphadenopathy. Breast cancer is one of the common causes of this finding on physical exam. This occurs because the lymphatic system of the breast drains into the axillary region, and cancer tends to spread along this pathway. Cancers of the immune system, including lymphoma and leukemia, can also cause enlarged lymph nodes in this region of the body. Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, is yet another cause of this symptom.

Another group of disorders that can cause axillary lymphadenopathy are infections. Systemic diseases, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or Epstein Barr virus (EBV) infection, can cause generalized lymphadenopathy that includes the axillary region. More localized infections can also cause this symptom. These can include cat scratch disease, sporotrichosis, and bacterial infections.

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