Following closely behind heart disease, can you name America’s second-most pressing public health concern? If you answered cancer, you’re correct. In January 2017, the American Cancer Society published their cancer statistic projections – the numbers of new U.S. cancer cases and deaths that will occur – in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. According to their projections, by the end of 2017, there will have been 1,688,780 new cancer cases and 600,920 cancer deaths.
Part of the reason why these figures are so alarmingly high is because cancer is a group of diseases. It is best described as an “uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. If the spread is not controlled, it can result in death.”
How Does Cancer Spread?
Generally, cancer can either spread through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. The National Cancer Institute actually offers a simple explanation of how cancer cells spread in in a series of steps:
- Cancer grows into, or invades, nearby normal tissue
- Moves through the walls of nearby lymph nodes or blood vessels
- Travels through the lymphatic system and bloodstream to other parts of the body
- Stops in small blood vessels at a distant location, invades the blood vessel walls, and moves into surrounding tissue
- Grows in this tissue until a tiny tumor forms
- Causes new blood vessels to grow, which creates a blood supply that allows the tumor to continue growing
While we tend to think of our lymphatic system as merely the vehicle of transmission for cancer, could it be that a congested lymph is increasing your cancer risk to begin with?
The Lymphatic System: Role, Risks, and Symptoms
Your lymphatic system is made up of nodes and ducts throughout your body, such as: the armpits, under the jaw, either side of the neck or groin, and above the collar bone. Lymph nodes and ducts work together to help clean and drain your blood of what it doesn’t need, such as bacteria and germs. So, a healthy lymph is key for having a strong defence (or immune) system.
If your lymphatic system, the one responsible for helping keep germs and bacteria out of your body, is clogged, you have to wonder: What happens if my lymphatic system cannot drain effectively or at all?
You’ll notice common symptoms of a clogged lymph including:
- swollen lymph nodes that may be tender or painful to the touch
- Runny nose
- Swollen fingers
- Recurring sinus infections
- Morning soreness
The Causes and Symptoms of Swollen Lymph Nodes
So, when do lymph nodes swell? There are a few potential sources, the main ones being injuries, infections, and tumor. Regardless of which lymph nodes are swollen, they swelling is often localized. That’s why identifying which ones are swollen can help you identify the problem. The five most common causes are:
- Infection (e.g., ear, sinus, tooth, skin)
- Inflammation (e.g., lupus, rheumatoid arthritis)
- Cancer (e.g., lymphoma)
- Cancer of the blood
With your new knowledge of your lymphatic system and the causes and symptoms of swollen lymph nodes, we should revisit the question posed earlier…
“Can my clogged or swollen lymph nodes increase my cancer risk?”
Like a drain, when your lymphatic system clogs up, the lymph nodes become swollen. If lymph nodes fail to function properly, the waste they’re supposed to get rid of sits stagnant. However, is there a causal link between having a clogged lymphatic system and developing cancer? Yes, but indirectly.
The increased cancer risk is largely due to obesity, which is closely intertwined with the functioning (or lack thereof) of your lymphatic system. In a mouse genetic study published in Nature Genetics, researchers found that a compromised lymphatic system leaked fat- and lipid-rich fluids that activated fat accumulation which led to adult-onset obesity.
Another study published in PLoS One highlighted the fact that “obesity has significant negative effects on lymphatic transport…cell migration, and lymph node architecture… Moreover, [researchers] found a significant negative correlation between collecting lymphatic vessel function and body weight.”
As you can see, the connection between clogged lymphatic systems and obesity can become quite the vicious cycle. Similar to how a clogged lymph increases the risk of obesity, obesity can severely affect your lymph nodes’ ability to function properly. And, as the above study reminds us, “Obesity is a major cause of morbidity and mortality resulting in pathologic changes in virtually every organ system.” In fact, obesity has been linked to an increased risk of cancer!
Don’t worry, though. We’ve listed some techniques below that you can use to decrease your risk of a clogged lymphatic system, obesity, and, therefore, cancer.
4 Ways to Unclog Lymph Nodes (and Keep Your Lymphatic System Flowing)
- Keep moving. Because lymph nodes are located throughout your body, they rely on regular bodily movements to keep them circulating smoothly. Something as simple as walking for 15 minutes every day can work wonders for your lymphatic system. Practicing yoga on a daily basis will also help!
- Getting massages. Whether you go and get one or do it yourself at home, massages are another perfect way to stimulate the lymph nodes and increase their flow. Dry brushing is also effective for detoxing your lymphatic system.
- Castor oil. Using castor oil properly can help drain your lymphatic system. The way to do it? With a topical castor oil pack. Find it here – it’s really simple to prepare.
- Herbal remedies. Consider herbs that help lymphatic drainage such as cleavers, red clover and echinacea. Their antimicrobial properties also help to remove toxins from your body and strengthen your immune system.
- Drink water. Without enough hydration, lymph cannot flow properly. Make sure you’re drinking throughout the day (it’s better to remind yourself to drink at least once an hour rather than focusing on 8 glasses a day).
- Jump around. The practice known as “rebounding” is very helpful for keeping your lymphatic system moving. Spend at least 10 minutes on a trampoline every day- it’s a fun way to get things moving.