What are calcified lymph nodes?
Lymph nodes are found throughout the body and help fight infections and disease. Calcified lymph nodes have calcium deposits which causes the lymph nodes to harden and appear denser or whiter on X-rays and CT.
What causes calcified lymph nodes?
There are many causes for calcified lymph nodes. We see them most commonly in the chest. These often represent benign inactive processes. Calcified lymph nodes can occur following infection with organisms like TB and histoplasmosis.
Sarcoidosis can cause lymph nodes to calcify. This is a multi system chronic inflammatory disorder.
Silicosis can cause lymph nodes to calcify. This disorder is caused by the inhalation of silica dust found in people who work in occupations where they are exposed to stone, clay and sand. The lymph nodes characteristically calcify along the periphery.
Lymphoma which is a cancer of the lymphatic system. Treated lymphoma can cause lymph nodes to calcify.
Less common causes can include lung infections and certain cancers which spread to lymph nodes like thyroid and bone cancer.
Calcified lymph nodes on X-ray
Calcified lymph nodes on X-ray are not as well seen as those on CT. Calcified lymph nodes on X-ray will appear as dense or white spots in the mediastinal or hilar regions. We can sometimes see them in the abdomen and groin regions.
The mediastinum is the middle of the chest between the lungs. The hila is where the blood vessels and bronchi enter and leave the lungs on both sides. We may see the calcified lymph nodes in these regions most commonly.
Calcified lymph nodes on CT
We can see all calcified lymph nodes on CT. They will appear as dense and white. Calcified lymph nodes on CT are most commonly found in the chest mediastinal and hilar regions, they can also be seen in the abdomen and groin regions.
Calcified mediastinal lymph nodes
One of the most common sites to find calcified nodes. The causes are outlined above. Usually these are benign and left alone. They often represent an inactive process with some exceptions as outlined above.
Calcified hilar lymph nodes
Another common site to find calcified lymph nodes. The causes are outlined above. They most commonly represent an inactive process like prior infection with exceptions outlined above.
Calcified lymph nodes neck
These can occur from benign and malignant causes. Benign causes can be from prior infection. Some calcified nodes can occur from spread of cancer like thyroid. Treated lymphoma can cause calcified nodes.
Calcified lymph nodes groin
This is a less common site of calcified nodes. The same causes need to be considered as in other locations.
Are calcified lymph nodes cancerous?
Usually not. They are most commonly the result of prior infections. Certain cancers spread to lymph nodes and can cause them to be calcified. Certain bone cancers and thyroid cancer can do this.
Calcified lymph nodes treatment
These lymph nodes do not need treatment unless there is an active underlying cause. The underlying condition that caused them to develop may need to be treated.
For example, if there is they are caused by cancer, then the underlying cancer needs to be treated. If they are caused by an infection, then this needs to be treated.
Inactive infections do not need to be treated. Treated lymphoma that is in remission does not need treatment. Both of these conditions can be accompanied by calcified lymph nodes.
Calcified lymph nodes: summary
Calcified lymph nodes are found in many locations in the body but most commonly in the chest. They most commonly represent prior infections and are usually benign. There are exceptions to this as certain lung diseases and active cancers can cause lymph nodes to calcify.
It is therefore important to consider all information like the history. For example, is there a history of active or treated cancer? Does the patient have signs of active infection? Does the patient work with sand and clay (silicosis)? Are there prior imaging studies showing stable calcified lymph nodes over time? This will help reach a more confident diagnosis.