What does the Lymphatic system do? And how does it spread cancer?

7 Feb

First posted 3 Feb:


I’ve never really understood the lymphatic system. I know it exists, and I’ve vaguely tried to find out in the past, but it never really understood. However, as I about to lose part of it, I have made myself learn about it. Maybe most people know… but anyway, here is what I found out.

The Lymphatic System: 


The lymph systems includes a number of different thing that we all know about. Bone Marrow, spleen, various glands and the lymphatic vessels. They are like blood vessels, but apparently much thinner, and carry a clear fluid called Lymph.

Lymph fluid comes originally from blood. When the blood gets to your cells, some of the plasma ‘leaks’ out of capillaries to surround all the cells in liquid, and also to transfer food to the cells. This fluid then drains back into the lymph system, and waste from the cells is cleared out. The lymph system then brings all this fluid back up to somewhere near the base of your neck, and puts it back into your bloodstream.

Lymph Nodes

As the lymph is on it’s way back to the neck, it passes through various nodes, which perform a cleaning function. The nodes fight infection, which is why they swell up when you are sick, as they will be making lots of extra white blood cells to fight the infection in the various nodes.

All this is going on constantly, to ensure your cells are healthy and well fed, and that your blood is nice and clean. Another one of those quite amazing processes that are just part of our everyday living.

How does this relate to cancer. 

When the fluid goes past the cells, it picks up waste, but if your cancer cells are not well differentiated, parts of the cells also get picked up and can escape into the lymphatic system. If the cells are well differentiated, they are unlikely to ‘leak’ too many cancer cells, if they are moderately differentiated, then some ‘leak’, and if poorly differentiated then you have a higher risk of the cells leaking.

Mine are moderately differentiated.

This is technically a blood vessel, but the concept is the same. 

They then travel to the lymph nodes, and as this area is very densely packed with cells to clean the lymph fluid, the cancer cells can can stuck, and will then start to grow. I think it tends to get caught in the small lymph vessels leading into the lymph node, and will start to create a new cancer there.

So, clearly that is why the lymph nodes are checked. The tumor itself can only grow so far, but by hitching a ride in any fluid in the body it gets to other areas and can grow there.

This is a complicated process, and the body is keeping an eye out for rogue cells, so very few survive to make cancer in other locations. But as the cancer will keep leaking cells, obviously the risk increases over time. Also, as the cancer increases in size, it has more cells to leak.

Removing the nodes:

Here are the nodes I believe they are removing. The ones around the sides of the groin, which are the first stop for lymph fluid when it leaves the cervix are.

In this area are also some important nerves, and one of the risks is that they will damage these nerves. I believe this is normally a temporary thing as the nerves will regenerate, but it may mean some numbness when I wake up. I’ll still be able to control everything, just maybe not feel it properly.

So what happens if you don’t have lymph nodes?

I’m finding it hard to get a clear answer on this. The best I can find it that the lymph system will find it harder to drain, and lymph fluid may build up in the legs.

I suppose that happens because the vessels need to find a new way to get the fluid back to the neck. So I think the removal of the nodes isn’t really a problem, it’s more that channels have been cut. The nodes won’t grow back, but I guess the lymph vessels must regenerate, otherwise the fluid would go nowhere.

To me ‘swollen legs’ doesn’t sound too bad, but as so many people mention it I guess it must be quite a problem. The stockings you wear put pressure on the vessels, which assists it in moving the fluid around. (But.. how does that help if the vessels have been cut?? I’ll ask tomorrow. There must be more vessels left that it’s get re-routed to, but they are taking extra load so it needs help. Sound plausible?!)

This is a really long post, so I’ll stop here!



One Response to “What does the Lymphatic system do? And how does it spread cancer?”


  1. Farewell 2013 | Kath's Cervical Cancer Journey - December 30, 2013

    […] that’s all covered in the rest of this blog really. Operations, and another one , lots of daytime TV (including a wedding!), some travel, fundraising for […]

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