How to check your lymph nodes
The Lymphatic System
Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, which is a network of tiny tubes that carry a colourless fluid called lymph through the skin and deeper parts of the body. Lymph fluid contains immune cells (lymphocytes) nutrients and waste materials.
It bathes the cells of the skin and internal organs and drains into lymphatic vessels then larger ducts in the neck before joining the blood stream near the heart (see Figure 1).
Lymph nodes (‘glands’) are small oval nodules and contain millions of infections fighting lymphocyte cells. They are found at intervals along the lymphatic vessels like ‘beads on a string’ (see Diagram 1). The lymph nodes filter out harmful organisms and abnormal cells before the lymph reaches the blood stream. Lymph nodes can only be felt in certain areas:
head and neck
inguinal area (groin)
back of knees
Lymph node are usually too small to feel except in slim people when they can be felt as smooth pea-sized lumps in the groin. Another common exception is when people get a sore throat or an ear infection, which can make the neck lymph nodes enlarged, painful and tender.
Lymph nodes can also become enlarged if cancer cells lodge in them. In this case, they are usually painless.