This weekly series highlights eponyms in oncology. This week, we explore the history and namesake of Virchow’s node.
Virchow’s node refers to a supraclavicular lymph node, most often left-sided, that signifies metastatic malignancy.1
Although Virchow’s node is most commonly described with gastric cancer, it can be seen in other settings as well.2
Virchow’s node has been identified as a seeding location for cancers arising from the intestines, urogenital system, esophagus, common bile duct, liver, pancreas, and lungs. It has been reported with squamous cell carcinoma and lymphoma as well.
History of the Name
Dr Rudolf Virchow is the namesake of Virchow’s node. He was born in 1821 in Prussia (now Poland) and completed his medical education in Berlin in 1843.3
In 1848, Dr Virchow described supraclavicular lymphadenopathy in relation to gastric, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers.4 He recognized Virchow’s node as the terminus for cancers that had spread via the thoracic duct.
“Thus, particularly in cancer of the stomach, the pancreas, the ovaries, etc., the process gradually spreads from the glands of the lower abdomen to the glands in the posterior mediastinum along the ductus thoracicus and finally involves the jugular glands around the junction of the ductus thoracicus (in the left supraclavicular fossa),” Dr Virchow wrote (translated to English).5
In the United States, Virchow’s node is so named because of this description by Dr Virchow. In France, the phenomenon is named “Troisier’s sign” after the French physician Charles Emile Troisier, who reported it in 1889.1,2
Dr Virchow’s other scientific contributions include writing one of the first descriptions of leukemia and coining terms to describe thrombosis and embolism.4
One of his major contributions was ascertaining that all human diseases had a cellular basis.6 Dr Virchow was the first to correctly link the origin of cancers from otherwise normal cells, believing that cancer is caused by severe irritation in the tissues (the “chronic irritation theory”).
Dr Virchow established the journal Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und für klinische Medizin with his colleague, Benno Reinhardt.7 The journal, now known as Virchows Archiv, is the official journal of the European Society of Pathology.
Dr Virchow is also credited with founding the newspaper Die medicinische Reform (Medical Reform) and popularizing the term “social medicine.” He promoted the idea that physicians should be advocates for underserved members of their communities.
Dr Virchow died of cardiac failure after a traumatic hip fracture in 1902.6
- Aghedo BO, Kasi A. Virchow node. Treasure Island, Florida: StatPearls Publishing. October 1, 2021.
- Zdilla MJ, Aldawood AM, Plata A, et al. Troisier sign and Virchow node: The anatomy and pathology of pulmonary adenocarcinoma metastasis to a supraclavicular lymph node. Autops Case Rep. 2019;9:e2018053. doi.org/10.4322/acr.2018.053
- Britannica. Rudolf Virchow, German scientist. Updated October 9, 2021. Accessed April 4, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rudolf-Virchow
- Kumar P, Brazel D, Benjamin DJ, Brem E. Eponyms in medical oncology. Cancer Treat Res Commun. 2022;31:100516. doi:10.1016/j.ctarc.2022.100516
- Morgenstern L. The Virchow-Troisier node: A historical note. Am J Surg. 1979;138(5):703. doi:10.1016/0002-9610(79)90353-2
- Walter E, Scott M. The life and work of Rudolf Virchow 1821–1902: ‘‘Cell theory, thrombosis and the sausage duel.’’ J Intensive Care Soc. 2017;18(3):234-235. doi: 10.1177/1751143716663967
- Werner, RA, Andree, C, Javadi, MS, et al. A voice from the past: Rediscovering the Virchow node with prostate-specific membrane antigen-targeted 18F-DCFPyL positron emission tomography imaging. Urology. 2018;117:18-21. doi:10.1016/j.urology.2018.03.030