Lymph Nodes

Understanding the Function of Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes image, lymphatic system image, lymph, swollen glands image,
Lymph Node & Lymphatic System. Image: ADAM

What Lymph Nodes Do

Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, which is an important portion of the immune system.  Lymph nodes act as tiny filters for the body, helping to trap and contain bacteria, cells that are foreign to the body and cancer cells.  A fluid called lymph circulates through the body, in a system similar to that which carries blood.  The lymph nodes act as lymph filters, attempting to stop illness and infection.


In addition to acting as a filter, lymph nodes also produce immune cells that help the body fight infection.

Swollen Lymph Nodes 

The lymph nodes are located in many areas of the body including the neck, the armpit, the groin, under the jaw, the back of the head, the abdomen and the chest.   Lymph nodes may be swollen when fighting bacteria or disease. When they become swollen and tender, their location is far more obvious, leading many to say that their "glands are swollen".

While swollen lymph nodes may predict illness, or the presence of infection, it is important to realize that enlarged lymph nodes do not necessarily indicate that illness will soon follow.  Lymph nodes can become enlarged when battling an infection successfully, meaning that you won't develop symptoms, and they can be enlarged when an illness will happen.  

Lymphadenopathy is the medical word for swollen lymph nodes.  Trained medical professionals can often detect swollen lymph nodes during a physical examination, by touching the area of the lymph nodes.


Lymph Nodes and Cancer

One function of lymph nodes is to try to filter cancer out of the body.  If there is a cancer in the body, the nearby lymph nodes are typically checked as they may become cancerous.  The cancer cells that are filtered from the lymph fluid can cause cancer in the lymph nodes that "catch" the cells, and an examination of lymph nodes can help medical professionals determine how far the cancer has spread through the body.


A sentinel lymph node is the name given to the closest lymph node or nodes to a known cancer site. It is the most likely node to be affected by cancer. If the node is positive for cancer, this is an indication that the cancer is attempting to spread through the body. A "clean" lymph node nearest the site of the cancer is considered a very good sign, and may indicate that the cancer has not spread to other areas. 

Pronunciation: lim-ff

Also Known As: swollen glands, lymphatic system, lymph glands, swollen nodes, lymph, sentinel lymph node, sore glands.

Common Misspellings: limph, lymf,

Examples: The surgeon was planning to biopsy the lymph node nearest the site of the cancer to see if there were any signs that the cancer had spread to one or more nodes.

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