Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Examination of lymph nodes.

Examination of lymph nodes.
beginning of content

Lymph nodes

2-minute read

Lymph nodes (or lymph glands) are part of the body’s immune system. They filter harmful substances like bacteria and cancer cells from your body, and help fight infections. They also play an important role in cancer diagnosis, treatment and prognosis.

What are lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes are small lumps of tissue that contain white blood cells, which fight infection. They filter lymph fluid, which is composed of fluid and waste products from your body tissues. Lymph nodes also help activate your immune system if you have an infection.

Where are lymph nodes located?

Lymph nodes are located throughout your body, including your neck, armpits, groin, around your gut, and between your lungs. Lymph nodes drain lymph fluid from nearby organs or areas of your body.

How lymph nodes filter lymph fluid

Lymph fluid is carried to your lymph nodes by lymphatic vessels. Your lymph nodes filter out harmful substances and waste products. They also contain immune cells called lymphocytes that destroy cancer cells and bacteria.

The filtered fluid is then returned to your blood circulation.

If you have an infection or cancer, a lymph node may become swollen. If you are concerned about your lymph nodes, speak to your doctor.

Illustration of the lymphatic system showing lymph nodes throughout the body.
Lymph nodes are located throughout your body. They drain lymph fluid from nearby organs or areas of your body.

Lymph nodes and cancer

Sometimes cancer can start in the lymph nodes (such as in lymphoma), but some others types of cancer can also spread from one part of the body to another through lymph nodes.

If a person has cancer, doctors examine lymph nodes carefully to see whether or not they are affected by cancer. They can do this by:

  • feeling all the nodes in the body
  • getting scans, for example a CT scan
  • removing nodes near the cancer, then examining them under a microscope
  • taking a biopsy of the lymph nodes near the cancer, then examining them under a microscope

This is done to see if the cancer has spread or not. This helps doctors work out the best treatment for the cancer.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2019


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Lymphatic system - myDr.com.au

The lymphatic system comprises a network of tiny vessels that carry lymph, the lymph nodes and the organs of the lymphatic system.

Read more on myDr website

Lymphatic system - Better Health Channel

The lymphatic manages fluid levels in the body, filters out bacteria and houses types of white blood cells.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Hodgkin Lymphoma Nodular

Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma is an uncommon type of Hodgkin lymphoma – a type of cancer that starts in the lymphatic system.

Read more on Rare Cancers Australia website

Primary Cutaneous B-Cell Lymphoma (PCBCL) - ACD

Tumours of the lymph nodes and lymphatic system are called lymphomas. B-cell lymphomas are caused by an excess of B-cell lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Lymphoma: Overview | Cancer Council Victoria

Lymphomas are cancers of the lymphatic system, which can affect your immune system and the way your body fights infections. To find out more, visit our site.

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Immune system explained - Better Health Channel

The immune system remembers every germ it has ever overcome.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

How your baby's immune system develops

Learn how your baby's immune system develops and how breastfeeding and vaccinations help protect babies from serious illness.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Kids' Health - Topics - The immune system

Immunity (say im-yoon-it-i) means that you are protected against something

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

How do vaccines affect immunity? | SKAI

Vaccines cant overwhelm a babys immune system because their immune system is equipped to protect them from thousands of germs every day

Read more on National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) website

Vaccination and antibodies - myDr.com.au

See how vaccines prepare your immune system to fight disease by taking advantage of the fact that the immune system can remember infectious organisms.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo