Lynne Eldrige, MD, is a lung cancer physician, patience advocate, and also award-winning writer of "Avoiding Cancer sooner or later at a Time."

Lymph nodes or lymph glands are an important part that the immune system, acting as "nodes" in between the lymphatic vessels that expectancy the body. Immune cells that swarm in these nodes stand all set to attack any type of bacteria, viruses, or other foreign substances that enter the body.

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The lymph nodes room susceptible to conditions such as infections, cancer, and trauma. Let"s look in ~ the function these nodes pat in the day to day duty of your body, as well as their role in disease.


Lymph nodes space small, bean-shaped glands the are situated along the lymphatic system (a device of vessels comparable to arteries and veins through which lymph fluid travels). Lymph nodes space classified together "secondary" lymphoid organs, through the main lymph organs gift the thymus gland, tonsils, spleen, and also bone marrow.

If girlfriend visualize the main lymph organs together the courthouse, the lymphatic vessels space the highways the immune police cells take trip to survey the body, and also the lymph nodes are prefer police stations follow me the way. Over there are numerous lymph nodes transparent the body, but they room clustered in particular regions.


The structure of a lymph node is actually rather complex. Lymph nodes are split into lobules, every of which consists of an external cortex, adhered to by a paracortex, v the medulla (core) ~ above the inside.

Simplistically, B lymphocytes (B cells) are uncovered in the cortex, with T lymphocytes (T cells) and dendritic cell in the paracortex. Plasma cells and macrophages are current in the medulla. The whole lymph node is fastened by a hard fibrous capsule.


Lymph nodes deserve to vary in size from only a couple of millimeters to approximately 2 centimeters in diameter.


Lymph nodes work like filters, or in our analogy defense guards come filter bacteria, viruses, parasites, other international material (even cancer cells) that are lugged to the nodes via lymphatic vessels.

This is the factor that lymph nodes room evaluated in people with cancer, as this is the very first place where cancer cells might be "caught" on their journey to check out and set up home elsewhere in the body.

Lymph nodes play essential roles in fighting infections. Not just do castle "trap" viruses and also bacteria so that T cells deserve to attack, however one type of T cells presents the invader (or an antigen from the invader) come B cell so the B cells deserve to make antibodies against the invader. In this way, lymph nodes are a location where immune cells deserve to communicate and also work together.

species and areas

Lymph nodes are popular as the "swollen glands" human being may keep in mind in your neck as soon as they room fighting a cold or ill throat, however these nodes are actually situated in numerous regions the the body.

Lymph nodes that lie near the surface of the skin, such as in the neck, armpit, groin, and also sometimes those in the eight (elbow) and back of the knee might be felt as soon as enlarged, yet others might only be checked out on imaging studies such as a computed tomography (CT) scan.

Lymph nodes are much more easily felt in people who space thin, and sometimes detect nodes the are rarely felt in general can be alarming. Some necessary lymph nodes include:

Cervical (Neck) Lymph Nodes

Cervical lymph nodes space the nodes you have likely felt in your neck when fighting an upper respiratory street infection, and also filter lymphatic fluid coming from the head, scalp, and also neck.

Cervical lymph nodes (lymph nodes in the neck) in turn, deserve to be broken down right into three primary regions, and also which region is involved can give doctors necessary information as soon as diagnosing an illness:

Occipital lymph nodes: this nodes lie on the ago of the neck at the base of the skull, and are likewise frequently enlarged in world who have actually mono.

Axillary (Armpit) Lymph Nodes

Axillary lymph nodes room the lymph nodes located in her armpit. In the movie "Terms that Endearment," these nodes heralded chest cancer, yet there are an ext common causes for enlargement. There are usually in between 10 and 40 lymph nodes in the axilla, many of which are removed as soon as a person has actually an axillary lymph node dissection for breast cancer.

The axillary lymph nodes have the right to be offered to describe an important finding v cancer. Once cancer cells space picked up in the lymphatic fluid, they an initial travel to lymph nodes. It's been discovered that this lymph nodes are affected in order.

A sentinel lymph node biopsy may be done with breast cancer or melanoma and can regularly spare a human from having actually all nodes removed. A tracer is injected into the cancer, and only the first couple of nodes to which the cancer would certainly travel might be to it is in biopsied.

Supraclavicular Lymph Nodes (Above the Collarbone)

Supraclavicular lymph nodes are, once enlarged, deserve to be feel just above the collarbone (clavicle). Most of the time, enlargement of these nodes signifies a serious underlying difficulty (such together lung cancer or a lymphoma).

Mediastinal Lymph Nodes

Mediastinal lymph nodes reside in the mediastinum, the area in the facility of the chest in between the lungs. Civilization cannot feeling these nodes, but they can be visualized on imaging studies such as a CT scan or positron emission tomography (PET) scan. Determining whether cancer is present in these nodes is vital in staging lung cancer and also some lymphomas.

Inguinal (Groin) Lymph Nodes

Inguinal lymph nodes are existing in the groin region. Since they drainpipe tissues indigenous the feet come the groin, there are countless reasons why these nodes can come to be inflamed. Most often they become swollen after ~ an injury or epidemic in the legs, however may additionally be a authorize of anything indigenous a sexually sent disease to cancer.

Keep in mind that most people experience swollen inguinal nodes at some time, and the vast majority of the time they are not a problem; they are only doing their project of recording viruses or bacteria that enter your body from a sick on her feet or legs.

Retroperitoneal Lymph Nodes

Retroperitoneal lymph nodes lied deep in the abdomen and can only be checked out on imaging studies. They are the nodes to which testicular cancer an initial spreads.

Mesenteric Lymph Nodes

Mesenteric lymph nodes are comparable to retroperitoneal nodes, lied deep in the abdomen in the membranes the surround the intestine. In adolescents, this nodes may become inflamed (mesenteric lymphadenitis) v symptoms that can sometimes mimic appendicitis. They might be enlarged with some cancers, yet this is much much less common.

Pelvic Lymph Nodes

Pelvic lymph nodes lie deep in the pelvis and can only be viewed on imaging studies. They may be connected with cancers such as those of the bladder, prostate, and more.

other Lymph Nodes

There space clusters that lymph nodes close to the elbow, behind the knee, follow me the big airways (tracheobronchial), along the aorta (paraaortic), and many various other regions that the body.

associated Conditions

There are many problems in which lymph nodes end up being involved. Physicians use the hatchet lymphadenopathy to describe inflammation or ede in this glands. When doctors advice lymph nodes there are a variety of terms they might use:

Mobile vs. Fixed: mobile lymph nodes room those the can conveniently be moved approximately when touched, conversely, fixed appear to it is in attached come a framework deeper in the body. In general, mobile lymph nodes are benign whereas addressed nodes suggest the opportunity of cancer.Painful vs. Non-painful: In general, infections can cause tender lymph nodes and also cancerous nodes are frequently not tender. But there are countless exceptions.Localized vs. Generalized: The hatchet localized refers to enlarged lymph nodes in just one location. When generalised lymphadenopathy (enlarged nodes) is present, the is more likely come be infections such as mononucleosis (but can also be because of other conditions).Matted: occasionally lymph nodes appear to it is in attached together in a clump and the ax matted is used.

Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell


Since lymph nodes keep the white blood cell that are our first line of defense versus infection, lock are regularly enlarged due to infections. Enlargement the lymph nodes through an infection have the right to be an excellent or bad.

It is an excellent in the feeling that they room the powerhouses save immune cells. In various other words, enlargement that the lymph nodes might mean your body is doing its project to solve ​an infection.

This ide was not constantly well understood, however, and for a long time that was thought that removing the tonsils would aid prevent infections. As soon as tonsils space severely damaged, remove them deserve to be a an excellent idea.

But if they are healthy and only doing their job, remove them gets rid the the functional "first place" whereby bacteria traveling in the lymphatic vessels might be "arrested."


Lymph nodes can record viruses and also bacteria however are also susceptible to epidemic themselves. For those who have been told come watch for a "red streak" after an injury have actually learned the infections (usually staph or strep) may start in one infected wound and spread promptly along lymph channels.

Infections involving the lymph nodes often cause a far-ranging fever and chills. Cat scrape fever is one infection led to by the bacterium Bartonella henselae and is sent by exposure (usually via a rest in the skin) indigenous an infected cat. Enlarged lymph nodes associated to capture scratch fever are usually non-tender however can be really large.


Lymph nodes room commonly affiliated with cancer, yet their duty often differs in between solid tumors and lymphomas. With solid tumors such as breast cancer, the cancer cells usually take trip to lymph nodes prior to traveling (metastasizing) to other regions that the body.

Cancers that have spread to lymph nodes space usually a higher stage than those that have actually not, an interpretation they have actually a higher risk of recurring or spreading. In a sense, the spread out of cancer cell to lymph nodes has asserted its will to travel elsewhere.

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With lymphomas, in contrast, the cancer begins in the lymph nodes. As soon as lymphomas infect regions various other than lymph nodes, the is not described as metastasis just like solid tumors, but rather as "extranodal involvement."

Other problems

There are countless other conditions that can cause enlarged lymph nodes, varying from autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis) to hereditary syndromes, sarcoidosis, and also more.

Injuries and Trauma

Since the lymph nodes room the rest stops because that the "workers" or the white blood cell which clean up a website of trauma, lock are frequently enlarged with any kind of injury. You have the right to think that the lymph nodes as being a van stop close to a natural disaster wherein the firemen and also paramedics space hanging out all set to carry out their job.