Have you ever wondered why your doctor seems so interested in the lymph nodes in your neck when you’re there for a sore throat and runny nose? Swollen lymph nodes can indicate viral or bacterial infection. They can also reveal whether diseases such as cancer are at work in your body.
Dr. Frank Candela and Dr. David Schreier of Candela & Schreier Medical Corporation are board-certified surgeons who serve residents throughout the San Fernando and Simi Valley regions of Southern California.
These highly skilled specialists have earned a stellar reputation for providing top-quality surgical services, including lymph node dissection and biopsy to more effectively diagnose and treat cancers and other diseases. Here’s what your lymph nodes can reveal about your health.
Understanding the role of your lymphatic system
The lymphatic system is part of your immune system and includes a series of channels that work much like blood vessels to carry fluid known as lymph throughout your body.
The fluid contains oxygen, protein, other tissue-nourishing substances as well as white blood cells that help your body fight infection and other diseases. Lymph also carries debris from dead and damaged cells, toxins, and other foreign substances like cancer cells it collects as it travels through your body.
So, what are lymph nodes?
Lymph nodes are oval shaped, pea-sized organs located throughout the network of lymph vessels. They act as filters through which lymph fluid passes.
Each lymph node contains a mesh-like tissue structure that’s filled with B cells, T cells, and other components of the immune system. Cancer cells, bacteria, and other foreign materials are trapped by this naturally occurring screen and, ideally, destroyed before they spread to other areas.
Unfortunately, this amazing filtration system is not always able to contain the spread of a viral or bacterial illness. Doctors can, however, examine lymph nodes to help determine what diseases might be affecting your health.
The benefits of examining lymph nodes
Lymph nodes actively engaged in fighting off threatening illnesses can become inflamed, tender, and swollen. Swollen nodes in your upper neck near the jawline, for instance, may indicate an infection in your throat, ears, or sinuses.
Because these lymph nodes lie very near this skin’s surface, we can feel the changes related to infection. That’s why we check your neck when it’s your throat that hurts.
We can also surgically remove and analyze (biopsy) lymph nodes located near a cancerous tumor. When examined under the microscope, a lymph node’s contents can reveal whether cancer has begun to spread (metastasize), or not. This knowledge plays a vital role in designing the most effective treatment strategy for your battle against cancer.
Lymph node biopsies can also identify lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes), infections such as tuberculosis, and other diseases such as sarcoidosis.