Lymph nodes are found throughout the body. They are part of the body’s immune system. These nodes help fight infection by producing special white blood cells. They also work by trapping bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. Normally, lymph nodes cannot be felt unless they are swollen. Infection, usually by a virus, is the most common cause of lymph node swelling. Other causes include bacterial infection and cancer.
With this type of biopsy, the doctor removes and examines all or part of a lymph node.
This biopsy is done to find out why a node is swollen. It can also be done to see if there are cancer cells in the lymph node.
Common areas for biopsy include: GroinArmpitNeckUnder the jaw and chinBehind the ears
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a lymph node biopsy, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include: BleedingInfectionSwellingNerve damage, including numbness at the biopsy site
Leading up to your procedure, you will need to:
Talk to your doctor about your medical history, including:
Any allergies that you have
Any medications you take, including over-the-counter drugs and herbs and supplements. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to 1 week before the procedure.
Arrange for a ride home from the care center.Avoid eating or drinking anything after midnight if you will have general anesthesia.
Local anesthesia—just the area that is being operated on is numbed; given as an injection and may also be given with a sedativeGeneral anesthesia
is used for open biopsies—blocks pain and keeps you asleep through the surgery; given through an IV in your hand or arm
Lymph nodes samples can be obtained by: Needle biopsyOpen biopsy
There are 2 types of needle biopsies: Fine needle biopsy
—A thin, hollow needle is used to obtain tissue samples.
Core needle biopsy—A larger needle is used to cut out a piece of tissue.
CT scan may be used
to help locate the biopsy site.
Lymph Node Biopsy
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An open biopsy means removing the lymph nodes through an incision. A cut will be made in the skin. All or part of a lymph node will be removed. After removal, the incision will be closed with stitches and bandaged.
The sample will be sent to the lab for examination.
About 30-60 minutes—longer if an ultrasound or CT scan is used.
You will have some pain and tenderness after the biopsy is taken. Your doctor may give you pain medication.
Be sure to follow your doctor's
Results will be ready in about a week. Your doctor will tell you if further treatment is needed.
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs: Signs of infection, including fever and chillsRedness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision siteNew or worsening symptoms
In case of an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy: questions and answers. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/therapy/sentinel-node-biopsy. Updated August 11, 2011. Accessed February 24, 2015.
Testing biopsy and cytology specimens for cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.org/docroot/ped/content/ped_2_3x_testing_biopsy_and_cytology_specimens_for_cancer.asp?sitearea=ped. Accessed February 24, 2015
Last reviewed February 2015 by Igor Puzanov, MD; Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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