The amazing and shy lymph nodes are little bean shaped glands about the size of a pea that never let down their defenses as they fight diseases and never take a day off from filtering debris from the body. The average person knows little about them and the reason is because they work quietly in the background of bodily functions that are more prominent.
Here is a list of 13 amazing facts about the lymph nodes to get to know them better.
Fact #1 – Cancer is staged by determining how much lymph node involvement is present
When cancer is diagnosed it will need to be determined if the cancer has spread. Sometimes imaging will be done to see if there is evidence of cancer cells in the nodes, but sometimes even if there is no sign, a node biopsy is done anyways. When there is cancer in the nodes it is more serious and more aggressive treatment will be needed.
Learn about Location of Lymph Nodes.
Fact #2 – Cancer of the nodes has three categories and two common types
Category A Lymphoma has no symptoms (Getting To Know The Types of Lymphoma). Category B is when symptoms like fever, chills, night sweats, itching, and weight loss are present. Category E is when the cancer has spread from a lymph node to an organ. Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are the two most common types.
Fact #3 – There are 500-700 lymph nodes throughout the body
There are a handful of noticeable lymph nodes located on the neck, armpits and groin area. There are many more located in the back of the knee, and deep in the torso around the organs.
Fact #4 – Sentinel nodes can stop the spread of cancer to various nodes in the body
In the past there would be several lymph nodes removed to perform biopsies and test for cancer. The first node that the cancer drains to is the sentinel node and if there isn’t any cancer, then it is expected no other ones in the region would need to be removed and tested for cancer. (Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy in Patients With Melanoma)
Fact #5 – Tiny one way valves push the lymph from node to node
Blood is pumped through the body by the heart but lymph doesn’t have an organ to pump the fluid. Gravity and pressure push it from one node to the next until it travels to all them and then exits the system and most of it is returned to the blood.
Fact #6 – Lymph nodes enlarge and return to normal size commonly without treatment
Though there may be some cases of serious illness that will need to be treated before they will return to its normal size, most of the time they will go back to the original size within a few weeks after the body fights off an infection or a medication is no longer taken.
Fact #7 – To perform a biopsy a lymph node needs to be removed
Many biopsies are done by a small incision or with a needle that pulls out cells to test. In the case of lymph nodes, they need to be removed to do the biopsy, this is called a lymphadenectomy.
Fact #8 – Groups of small BB sized lymph nodes are referred to shotty
When there are several small BB sized lymph nodes in a cluster, like buckshot, they are called a shotty cluster. It can be alarming but generally it is not a sign of a serious illness and often is from an allergy or scarring from repeated swelling.
Fact #9 – Nodes are located deep in the body near major organs
There are some near the surface of the skin that are easy to feel but of the hundreds of nodes, many of them cannot be felt through the skin. These other nodes are located (Lymph Node Locations) around organs or deeper in the body.
Fact #10 – The lymph can build up when nodes are removed
The body will adapt, but when they are removed it interferes with the flow of the lymph fluid. Swelling can occur around the area of the removal and can also cause entire limbs to swell up with fluid.
Fact #11 – Medications and vaccines can cause the nodes to swell up
Even without an infection, they can enlarge in response to anti-seizure medications and from typhoid vaccines. They may remain swollen until the medication is no longer in the system.
Fact #12 – Lymph never stops moving from node to node
Unless there is a medical condition that prevents the flow of the fluid, it enters the body and travels along the vessels until it passes through each node and is returned to the blood. There is a constant supply of lymph fluid that runs through the body.
Fact #13 – Cancer cells and other pathogens are destroyed in the nodes
There are special white blood cells that are produced that will destroy foreign particles that the nodes filter out of the lymph. These blood cells will also destroy viruses, bacteria, and cancer cells so they don’t spread to other parts of the body.
Getting to know them better can help you appreciate the amazing little guys and it will also help you to bust any myths (4 Lymph Node Myths Busted) you hear floating around about them.