System of lymph nodes, vessels, and nodules and lymphoid tissue, including the thymus, spleen, tonsils, and bone marrow, through which lymph circulates and is filtered. Its primary function is to return proteins, waste products, and fluids to the blood; molecules too big to enter the capillaries pass through the more permeable walls of lymphatic vessels. Valves keep lymph flowing in one direction, more slowly than blood and at a lower pressure. The lymphatic system also has a role in the immune system. Nodes filter bacteria and foreign matter from lymph. Smaller nodules, which often produce lymphocytes, form in areas more exposed to such materials. They can merge and become permanent, as in the tonsils. Blockage of a lymph vessel may cause fluid to collect in the tissues, producing lymphedema (tissue swelling). Other lymphatic system disorders include lymphocytic leukemias and lymphoma. See also reticuloendothelial system.
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