Strong and durable anticancer immune responses are associated with the generation of activated cancer-specific T cells in the draining lymph nodes. However, cancer cells can colonize lymph nodes and drive tumour progression. Here, we show that lymphocytes fail to penetrate metastatic lesions in lymph nodes. In tissue from patients with breast, colon, and head and neck cancers, as well as in mice with spontaneously developing breast-cancer lymph-node metastases, we found that lymphocyte exclusion from nodal lesions is associated with the presence of solid stress caused by lesion growth, that solid stress induces reductions in the number of functional high endothelial venules in the nodes, and that relieving solid stress in the mice increased the presence of lymphocytes in lymph-node lesions by about 15-fold. Solid-stress-mediated impairment of lymphocyte infiltration into lymph-node metastases suggests a therapeutic route for overcoming T-cell exclusion during immunotherapy.