The posterior cervical lymph nodes are located along the sides of neck and drain lymphatic fluid from both the head and neck. These lymph nodes typically fight infections of the throat, upper respiratory tract, or teeth. Battling these infections can cause the lymph nodes to become enlarged. Without any other signs of infection, posterior cervical lymph nodes may also be enlarged due to the metastasis of cancerous cells.
Located in a line running vertically along the back edge of the neck, the posterior cervical lymph nodes are positioned just above the base of the neck. They are part of the lymphatic system, which is composed of lymphatic vessels and fluid, the tonsils, spleen, thymus gland, and clusters of lymph nodes located in the neck, underarm, and groin. Lymphatic fluid travels all over the body collecting various components, such as proteins and bacteria, and carry it back to the lymph nodes for removal and destruction. The posterior cervical lymph nodes receive lymph from the head and neck area.
When the head is suffering from an infection, the lymph nodes in the head and neck will filter out and destroy the infection-causing bacteria. This burden can cause the lymph nodes in the head and neck to swell as the battle against the infection is waged. Swollen lymph nodes are a clinical sign, in combination with other symptoms such as fever, congestion, and bodily aches, that the body is suffering from an infection. Enlarged posterior cervical lymph nodes typically suggest an infection of the throat, a viral infection, an infection of the upper respiratory tract, or an infection in a tooth. Most swollen lymph nodes will return to normal size following the infection, but if a lymph node remains swollen for more than two weeks and associated symptoms do not disappear, a doctor should be seen.
The lymph fluid can also collect cancer cells and transport them throughout the lymphatic vessels to the lymph nodes. Swelling of the posterior cervical lymph nodes can sometimes be due to the spreading of head and neck cancers to these nodes. When the posterior cervical lymph nodes are swollen without any associated signs of infection or occur in a person who has suffered from cancer in the past, a doctor should be seen immediately to determine the cause of the swelling. When this is the case, the lymph nodes will often be biopsied. If the lymph nodes are found to contain cancer, then they may be removed.