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Normal lymph nodes in the neck are usually less than 1 cm in length. Infections involving the pharynx, salivary glands, and scalp often cause tender enlargement of neck nodes. Enlarged nodes are common in HIV-infected persons. Except for the occasional node that suppurates and requires incision and drainage, treatment is directed against the underlying infection. An enlarged node (larger than 1.5 cm) or node with a necrotic center that is not associated with an obvious infection should be further evaluated, especially if the patient has a history of smoking, alcohol use, or prior cancer. Other common indications for FNA biopsy of a node include its persistence or continued enlargement. Common causes of cervical adenopathy include cancer (eg, squamous cell carcinoma, lymphoma, occasional metastases from non-head and neck sites) and infection (eg, reactive nodes, mycobacteria, and cat-scratch disease). Rare causes of adenopathy include Kikuchi disease (histiocytic necrotizing lymphadenitis) and autoimmune adenopathy.


Granulomatous neck masses are uncommon in the United States unless there are specific risk factors for particular infectious exposures or granulomatous hereditary or autoimmune illness. The differential diagnosis includes mycobacterial adenitis, sarcoidosis, and cat-scratch disease due to Bartonella henselae. The incidence of mycobacterial lymphadenitis is on the rise both in immunocompromised and immunocompetent individuals. The usual presentation of granulomatous disease in the neck is simply single or matted nodes. Although mycobacterial adenitis can extend to the skin and drain externally (as described for atypical mycobacteria and referred to as scrofula), this late presentation is no longer common.

FNA biopsy is usually the best initial diagnostic approach: cytology, smear for acid-fast bacilli, mycobacterial culture, and a sensitivity test can all be done. PCR from FNA (or from excised tissue) is the most sensitive test and is particularly useful when conventional methods have not been diagnostic but clinical impression remains consistent for tuberculous infection. While FNA has a high sensitivity (about 88%), its specificity is low (49%); thus, an excisional biopsy is often required to confirm the diagnosis.

See Tables 9–14 and 9–15 for current recommended treatment of tuberculosis infection, which includes infection of the lymph nodes (tuberculous lymphadenopathy). For atypical (nontuberculous) infection of the lymph nodes, treatment depends on the sensitivity results of culture, but antibiotics likely to be useful include 6 months of isoniazid and rifampin and, for at least the first 2 months, ethambutol—all in standard dosages. Some would totally excise the involved nodes prior to chemotherapy, depending on location and other factors, but this can lead to chronic draining fistulas.

Pang  P  et al. Clinical study of tuberculosis in the head and neck region—11 years' experience and a review of the literature. Emerg Microbes Infect. 2018;7:4.
[PubMed: 29323108]  


Lyme disease, caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted by ...

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