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Swollen Lymph Node vs. Cyst: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 23, 2024
A swollen lymph node is an enlarged lymph node, often a sign of infection or immune response; a cyst is a fluid-filled sac that can form in various body parts, typically benign.

Key Differences

Swollen lymph nodes are an enlargement of the lymph nodes, which are part of the immune system, typically responding to infections or diseases. They can be tender and are located in various parts of the body. In contrast, cysts are closed sac-like structures that can contain fluid, air, or other substances. They can occur anywhere in the body and are generally non-cancerous.
The enlargement of swollen lymph nodes indicates an ongoing immune response. Lymph nodes swell when they produce more white blood cells to fight an infection. On the other hand, cysts form due to various reasons, like blocked ducts or chronic inflammatory conditions, and their content varies based on their location and cause. Cysts don't usually indicate an immune response.
Swollen lymph nodes are often associated with symptoms like pain, tenderness, and fever if an infection is present. They return to normal size once the infection or disease resolves. Cysts, however, may grow slowly over time and often remain unnoticed until they become large or get infected, causing pain.
Swollen lymph nodes can sometimes indicate serious conditions like lymphoma or other cancers, especially if they are hard, non-tender, and persistently growing. In contrast, cysts are usually benign and only rarely indicate a serious condition. However, some cysts can become malignant over time.
The treatment for swollen lymph nodes often targets the underlying cause, like antibiotics for an infection. In contrast, cysts might not need treatment unless they are bothersome, in which case they can be drained or surgically removed.

Comparison Chart


Immune response indicator
Fluid-filled sac


Infection, immune response
Blockage, chronic conditions


Pain, tenderness, fever
Slow growth, pain if infected

Indication of Severity

Can indicate serious conditions
Usually benign, rarely serious


Targets underlying cause
Drainage, removal if problematic

Swollen Lymph Node and Cyst Definitions

Swollen Lymph Node

Reactive lymph nodes often associated with infection.
He noticed a swollen lymph node under his jaw after feeling under the weather.


An encapsulated lesion, often benign, found in different body parts.
The dermatologist diagnosed the lump on her face as a benign cyst.

Swollen Lymph Node

Enlargement of lymph nodes due to immune response.
The doctor examined the swollen lymph node in her neck, suspecting an infection.


A non-cancerous, fluid-filled sac that can develop in various tissues.
He had a cyst removed from his wrist, which was causing discomfort.

Swollen Lymph Node

Immune system's response manifesting as node enlargement.
Swollen lymph nodes around her ears indicated a possible ear infection.


A sac-like pocket of membranous tissue containing fluid, air, or other substances.
The MRI scan showed a cyst in his knee, which was the cause of his swelling.

Swollen Lymph Node

A physical symptom often accompanying viral or bacterial infections.
The presence of several swollen lymph nodes was consistent with her flu diagnosis.


A closed sac in the body, containing fluid or semi-fluid material.
The ultrasound revealed a small cyst on her liver, but it was deemed harmless.

Swollen Lymph Node

Enlarged lymphatic tissue responding to pathogens.
Post-vaccination, her swollen lymph node was a sign of her body's immune response.


A common, often painless, fluid or air-filled growth under the skin.
She discovered a small cyst on her back during a routine check-up.


An abnormal membranous sac in the body containing a gaseous, liquid, or semisolid substance.


A sac or vesicle in the body.


Can swollen lymph nodes be cancerous?

While rare, persistently swollen, hard, or growing lymph nodes can indicate cancer.

How are swollen lymph nodes treated?

Treatment focuses on the underlying cause, like antibiotics for an infection.

Are cysts always benign?

Most cysts are benign, but some can become malignant over time.

How is a cyst formed?

Cysts form due to blockages in ducts, infections, or chronic conditions.

What causes a swollen lymph node?

Infections or immune responses often cause swollen lymph nodes.

Can stress cause swollen lymph nodes?

Stress alone typically does not cause swollen lymph nodes.

Can children get swollen lymph nodes?

Yes, children commonly get swollen lymph nodes, often due to infections.

Do cysts need to be removed?

Cysts are removed if they cause discomfort, are infected, or for cosmetic reasons.

Do swollen lymph nodes always indicate illness?

They often indicate an immune response, but not always a serious illness.

What's inside a cyst?

A cyst can contain fluid, air, or semi-solid material.

What are the symptoms of a cyst?

Cysts may cause no symptoms or can be painful if infected.

Are cysts a sign of poor health?

Not necessarily; many cysts are unrelated to overall health.

Are swollen lymph nodes contagious?

The nodes themselves are not contagious, but the underlying condition might be.

How can I prevent cysts?

Some cysts are preventable through good hygiene and reducing skin trauma.

Can allergies cause swollen lymph nodes?

Allergies can sometimes cause lymph nodes to swell.

Do swollen lymph nodes affect the entire body?

They usually affect local areas near the infection or inflammation.

Can a cyst grow back after removal?

Some cysts can recur after being removed.

Are swollen lymph nodes painful?

They can be painful or tender, especially if caused by infection.

How long do cysts last?

Cysts can persist for varying durations, sometimes resolving on their own.

Is surgery always required for cysts?

Surgery is not always required, depending on the cyst's size and location.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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