Difference Between Swollen Lymph Node and Tumour

We have numerous systems in our bodies that are responsible for a variety of functions to keep us healthy. When it comes to the health of the body, lymph nodes and tumours are both major concerns.

Swelling indicates that our body’s immune system is battling an infection, sickness, insect, or disease, and a tumour is an abnormal layer of tissue.

Swollen Lymph Node vs Tumour

The main difference between swollen lymph node and the tumour is that of carcinogenicity(ability to cause cancer). Swollen nodes rarely cause cancer, while malignant tumours (cancerous tumours invading other distant sites) can cause cancer. Although, there are cases where a benign(non-cancerous and grows locally) tumour gets converted into malignant.

Swollen Lymph Node vs Tumour

Swollen lymph nodes are seen when glands become enlarged as a response to the infection of one or more nodes in the body while the tumour is the uncontrolled growth of mass that keeps multiplying cells without the death of older cells in the body.

Swollen lymph nodes are soft round bumps that appear like pea or grape, while tumours are mass or lumps of tissues.

Swollen lymph rarely causes cancer, on the other hand, Tumours have the potential to cause cancer. Malignant tumours are fatal. As swelling is said to occur due to infection in lymph they signify the immune system fighting against an infection.

But swollen lymph nodes near lymphatic areas are said to contain cancer. However, hardness, texture, consistency, and if they appear free-floating or connected to other tissues can all be used to distinguish them.

Comparsion Table Between Swollen Lymph Node and Tumour

Parameters of ComparisonSwollen Lymph Node Tumour
CauseUsually occurring due to autoimmune infectionsAbnormality in cell growth & death function
CarcinogenicityMostly non-cancerousIt may or may not be cancerous
Duration of healingSubsides in 2-4 weeksIt May take up to 18 months
Shape & sizeSoft round bumps appearing as pea or grapeAppears like a mass or lump of tissue
Location Occurs in lymphatic drainage like armpit, groin, neckMostly, occurs in the skin, lungs, breast

What is Swollen Lymph Node?

Swollen lymph occurs as a response to infection mostly from bacteria or viruses. In the majority of cases, swollen lymph is non-cancerous. Inflammation of lymph nodes is called lymphadenitis.

It may be acute(persisting for a short time) or chronic( persisting for a longer duration).

Common areas one may find swollen lymph nodes are the neck, under the chin, armpit area & in the groin region.
Swollen lymph nodes may present with symptoms like tenderness & pain in the region.

Swelling may be pea-sized or kidney bean-shaped or even larger in lymph nodes.

The size of the swelling depends on the amount of infection. Along with it, other signs & symptoms may include- Runny nose, fever, upper respiratory tract infections, night sweats and hard rapid growing nodes which indicate potential lymphoma or cancer.

When lymph nodes swell throughout the body it may include HIV or immune system disorders like Rheumatoid Arthritis or Systemic Lupus Erythematosus(SLE).

Acute lymph node swelling is usually mild and but occasionally it may be more severe. It may be acutely enlarged and tender. The overlying skin is red and hot.

After the infection is under control, the majority of cases heal completely without leaving any scar. If the inflammation does not subside, acute lymph node swelling may convert into chronic lymph node swelling.

Chronic lymph node swelling, also known as reactive lymphoid hyperplasia, is an acute inflammation of local lymph nodes to antigen stimuli including repeated attacks of severe lymphadenitis and lymph from malignant tumours.

What is a Tumour?

A tumour is formed when cells grow & divide more than they should or fail to die when they should. Tumours may either be benign( non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Benign tumours have a localised area of growth i.e. they do not spread to other body parts.

While malignant tumours can spread into other parts of the body via blood & lymphatic systems which is also called neoplasm.
Signs of tumour in the body:
• Unexplained weight loss
• Fatigue
• Blood in stools or urine
• Night sweats
• Recurrent nausea

A tumour is further classified as benign and malignant.

  1. Benign tumours- Benign tumours often compress surrounding tissues. Benign tumours are usually small in size. The rate of growth is slow in benign tumours. Metastasis(the ability to spread to other parts) is absent in these types of tumours. Cell functions are well maintained
    Eg- Lipoma(fat), Chondroma (cartilage), osteoma (bone).
  2. Malignant tumours- In malignant tumours surrounding tissues are usually invaded. Malignant tumours are larger. The rate of growth is rapid in malignant tumours. Metastasis is present in malignant tumours. Cell functions may become lost or may become abnormal.
    Eg- Liposarcoma (fat), Chondrosarcoma (Cartilage), Osteosarcoma (bone), Chordoma.

Routes of Metastasis:
Cancers may spread to other sites by following pathways:

  1. Lymphatic spread (Via lymphatic drainage)
  2. Haematogenous spread ( Via blood)
  3. Spread along body cavities (Transcoelomic spread).

Main Differences Between Swollen Lymph Nodes and Tumours

  1. Swollen lymph nodes get back to normal when infection subsides, while tumours need radiotherapy or chemotherapy to heal. When the tumour does not subside by this surgery is chosen.
  2. Swollen lymph nodes are a bit tender, whereas tumours that are malignant give rise to somatic pain.
  3. Swollen lymph nodes are present in areas near lymphatic drainag, wheares Tumours are present mostly on skin, lungs, breasts or genitals.
  4. Lymph nodes are softer and rounder and Tumour is a mass or lump of tissues comparatively harder.
  5. Swollen lymph node has less chance of causing cancer but Tumour have a higher chance of causing cancer.
Difference Between Swollen Lymph Node and Tumour


Tumour is a mass of uncontrolled growth which continues cell multiplication without the death of existing old cells in a part of the body. While swelling in lymph nodes occurs as a result of infection mostly of autoimmune origin.

Tumours of benign type do not generally end up in cancer, but tumours of malignant type have higher chances of developing into cancer.

Benign tumours quite rarely when converting to malignant they develop into leiomyomas and adenomas which may be cancerous.

A Tumor can be cured using either chemotherapy or radiation therapy in the initial stages while one has to opt for surgery in chronic or late stages.

Swelling at the lymph node region is an indicator of infection rather than cancer.

Lymph node swelling may stay as long as the infection exists. After the infection has subsided, swollen lymph nodes get back to normal. This takes about 2-4 weeks.


  1. http://www.differencebetween.net/science/health/disease-health/differences-between-swollen-lymph-node-and-tumor/
  2. https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/symptoms-and-conditions/is-it-a-lump-or-a-lymph-node-how-to-tell-the-difference
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