Cervical lymphadenopathy affects as many as 90% of children aged 4 to 8 years. With so many children presenting to doctors' offices and emergency departments, a systematic approach to diagnosis and evaluation must be considered. In the following review, we aim to provide the pediatric clinician with a general framework for an appropriate history and physical examination, while giving guidance on initial diagnostic laboratory testing, imaging, and potential need for biopsy. The most common cause of cervical lymphadenopathy in the pediatric population is reactivity to known and unknown viral agents. The second most common cause includes bacterial infections ranging from aerobic to anaerobic to mycobacterial infections. Malignancies are the most concerning cause of cervical lymphadenopathy.
The explosion in the use of ultrasonography as a nonradiating imaging modality in the pediatric population has changed the diagnostic algorithm for many clinicians. We aim to provide some clarity on the utility and shortcomings of the imaging modalities available, including ultrasonography, computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging.