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Facts About Cervical Lymph Nodes

Posted by Joanna Culley on

A person’s lymphatic system is a crucial part of the immune system. It is responsible for filtering lymph, which is the fluid where a very important type of blood cell, called lymphocyte, travels and reaches the entire system and its vessels. Small, clustered, bean-like, encapsulated units are located in several parts of our bodies and are known as lymph nodes or lymph glands. Their main goals are to fight infection and filter dangerous foreign bacteria entering the body, and they perform this function with their specialized set of cells.

A human body can have as much as 700 lymph nodes in its body and, as mentioned before, lymph nodes are not located very far from each other. They form clusters or small groups, and each one of these formations is in charge of filtering the lymphatic fluid from a certain, very specific area of your body. Cervical lymph nodes are those located very deep into the neck area, in spaced intervals. When they catch, attack and finally destroy germs carried into the cell cluster through the lymph fluid, the leftover liquids and minerals from this filtering process re-enter the bloodstream.

Cervical lymph nodes can be classified into two main groups: anterior and posterior. Anterior nodes can be either superficial or deep, and the ones known as submental and tonsillar nodes are located under the chin and jawline. Prelaryngeal nodes are located in front of the voice box or larynx. Thyroid nodes are above the middle of the collarbone. Pretracheal and paratracheal nodes are on the sides and in front of the trachea, respectively. 

Posterior lymph nodes are in the back of the neck, and their position is associated with the internal jugular vein. They are mainly three clusters of nodes in this area: lateral jugular, anterior jugular, and jugulo-digastric lymph nodes. The inferior deep cervical nodes are considered deep jugular nodes.  Cervical lymph nodes are also in charge of draining the tongue, parotid gland, and external ear. 

Can cervical lymph nodes swell?

Yes, they can. Usually, it is very hard to notice when the nodes are very deep inside the area, but in some cases, they can be swollen enough to be palpable on the neck area. It might be the size of a pea, or even larger. In most cases, this reaction is a sign that something is happening inside your body, probably due to bacteria, viruses or infection.

What other symptoms come with swollen cervical lymph nodes?

It all depends on the cause of your swelling but, in most cases, you could also have:

  • Fever, runny nose and sore throat (usually related to upper respiratory infections).
  • Swelling of nodes in other parts of the body (related to larger infections like mononucleosis or HIV).

Which are the most common infections that lead to swollen cervical lymph nodes?

Viruses and bacteria are usually responsible for most infections. Many common, non-lethal, and easily treatable infections can cause swelling. For example:

  • Common cold.
  • Bronchitis.
  • Strep throat.
  • Tonsilitis.
  • Measles.

Can swollen cervical lymph nodes be a sign of cancer?

They rarely are an indicator, but it can happen. For instance, certain types of cancer like lymphoma very often affect and cause damage to the cervical lymph nodes. This disease has two main classifications: Hodgkin's lymphoma (HL), and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). In fact, one of its very early signs is the painless swelling of more than two nodes.

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