Lymph nodes

Specialty of Surgery

What are lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes, also known as lymph glands, are small glands found throughout the body and form a part of the lymph system. The lymph system is a network of organs and vessels the carries a fluid around the body between tissue and the blood. The fluid contains white blood cells called lymphocytes.

The lymph system plays an integral part of the immune system, fighting against disease and infections.

Where are they found in the body?

Lymph nodes can be found on their own, or in groups. You can feel groups of lymph nodes in the neck, groin and underarms. You generally cannot feel most lymph nodes in the body, however, if they are swollen in the neck, you are able to feel them.

What do lymph nodes do?

Lymph nodes help to fight disease and they do so by filtering the lymph fluid and trapping any bacteria or viruses that pass through them. They are then destroyed by the lymphocytes, in an effort to destroy such substances before they infect other parts of the body. When lymph nodes are swollen, it usually means that they are exposed to bacteria and viruses and fighting an infection.

What does it mean if my lymph nodes are swollen?

It means that they are likely fighting an infection. However, more rarely, swollen lymph nodes could be caused by an underlying condition such as cancer. Swollen lymph nodes can feel tender or painful.

Depending on which lymph nodes are swollen, it can help determine what the problem might be.

Neck:

  • Commonly swollen if you have a cold or sore throat.
  • If there is a tumour or infection in the mouth, head or neck.

Armpit:

  • These lymph nodes might swell due to injury or infection in the hands or arms.
  • Less common causes of swollen armpit lymph nodes are breast cancer and lymphoma.

Groin:

  • These will likely swell is there is an infection or injury to the feet, legs, groin or genitals.
  • Less common causes of swelling in the groin lymph nodes are lymphoma, melanoma or testicular cancer.

Collarbone:

  • If the glands just above your collarbone are swollen, then there is likely an infection or injury in the breasts, neck, lungs or abdomen.

When you should see a specialist

If you are concerned at all, then you should see a doctor, however, it is recommended that you see a doctor if:

  • They have been swollen for more than two weeks.
  • They are swollen, but for no apparent reason such as infection or injury.
  • They feel hard.
  • The swollen lymph nodes have been accompanied by a fever.
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