Lymphoma and the lymphatic system

The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system. It helps to protect us from infection and disease.

What is the lymphatic system

The lymphatic system helps protect us from infection and disease. It is made up of fine tubes called lymphatic vessels. These vessels connect to groups of small lymph nodes throughout the body. The lymphatic system drains lymph fluid from the tissues of the body before returning it to the blood.

Lymph nodes (sometimes called lymph glands) filter bacteria (germs) and disease from the lymph fluid. When you have an infection, some lymph nodes may swell as they fight the infection.

The lymphatic system includes:

  • lymph vessels
  • lymph nodes
  • lymphocytes are blood cells that fight infection (these are the cells that become abnormal in lymphoma)
  • lymphatic organs
  • other lymphatic tissue.

Lymphatic organs

Lymphatic organs include the following:

  • The thymus – this helps some types of lymphocytes to mature.
  • The spleen  – helps fight and filter out disease and germs.
  • The tonsils  – these also help to fight and filter out disease and germs.

There are also other areas of lymphatic tissue where lymphocytes and other infection-fighting cells collect. These are usually found where disease or germs are more likely to enter the body – for example, in the lining of the bowel, lungs and nose.

The diagram shows the network of lymph nodes throughout the body. There are nodes in the neck (cervical), armpit (axilla) and groin (inguinal). The diagram shows the thymus gland at the top of the chest area, and the spleen, which is on the left side of the abdomen. The diagram also shows the diaphragm, which is the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen.
Image:The lymphatic system

The bone marrow is also part of the lymphatic system. Bone marrow is the spongy material in the middle of bones. It makes:

  • all the different types of white blood cell, including lymphocytes
  • red blood cells, which carry oxygen from your lungs to other cells in your body
  • platelets, which help blood to clot and prevent bleeding and bruising.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our lymphoma information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Blood and bone marrow cancers. NICE Pathways. Last accessed 3 December 2020.

    Hodgkin lymphoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up; European Society for Medical Oncology (2018).

    Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: diagnosis and management; NICE Guideline (July 2016).

    Newly Diagnosed and Relapsed Follicular Lymphoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up; European Society for Medical Oncology (2020).

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Rajnish Gupta, Macmillan Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.