The Lymphatic System and Lymph Nodes

Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is a fine network of vessels that can be found throughout the body. The lymph or lymphatic vessels are very much like the blood vessels (arteries and veins) that are found in your body and are usually found running alongside them. However, the lymphatic system vessels are much smaller and are designed to carry a fluid called lymph, rather than blood.

Lymph is a clear fluid that circulates and bathes the body tissues. It comes from the bloodstream where it is squeezed out of very small blood vessels to surround and bathe the body tissues. Once it has washed the cells it then drains away into the lymph vessels that travel back up towards the heart to return this fluid back to the bloodstream.

Lymph nodes

Along the lymph vessels are small bean-shaped lymph glands or ‘nodes’. Lymph nodes are designed to trap cancer cells, bacteria, or other harmful substances that may be in the lymph. Groups of lymph nodes are found in many parts of your body including:

Under your arms, in your armpits


In each groin, at the top of your legs



In your neck, in front of your ear and the back of your head.

There are also lymph nodes that you cannot feel in your abdomen & pelvis



Lymph nodes are very important in skin cancer such as melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and Merkel cell cancer because the cancer can spread to them. Surgery is commonly performed to the lymph nodes to detect cancer in them or to remove the cancer that is growing. These include:

Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy

Axillary Dissection

Groin Dissection

Neck Dissection

Pelvic Dissection