WHAT ARE THE LYMPH NODES? Lymph nodes are an essential part of the immune system, which helps the body fight infections or cancers. The lymphatic system is made up of a network of vessels that drain tissue fluid (called lymph) into special bean-shaped organs, called lymph nodes. The lymph nodes act as a filter, removing germs, foreign particles, or abnormal cells from the lymph fluid. Lymph nodes can be found in clusters under the armpits, on either side of the neck, and in the groin area. They contain white blood cells, which fight foreign bacteria and harmful cells. When they fight off an infection, they may become enlarged or swollen as they work to produce more white blood cells than usual. The presence of cancer cells can also cause the lymph nodes to swell. In children, even a scratch on a finger or minor trauma to the foot can cause localized, enlarged lymph nodes. Determining the cause of the swelling can be tricky, but in general, enlarged lymph nodes spread throughout the body, indicate that the body is fighting off an infection, dealing with an autoimmune disease, having a bad drug reaction, or encountering something more serious, like leukemia. The swelling is more likely to be benign if the node is less than one centimeter in diameter and soft, rubbery and tender. Only by doing a biopsy can a doctor tell for sure.
ABOUT BREAST CANCER: Breast cancer is a type of cancer in which cells in the breast become abnormal and grow and divide uncontrollably, eventually forming a mass called a tumor. Some tumors are benign, meaning that they do not invade other types of tissue, although if they become big enough, they can interfere with some bodily functions, such as the flow of blood or urine. Malignant tumors have cells that can invade nearby tissues. When a cancer "metastasizes," cells from the original tumor break off and travel to other parts of the body via the blood or lymph systems. More than 75 percent of breast cancers begin in the milk ducts within the breast. The next most common site is in the glandular tissue that makes the milk