Lymph Node Biopsy

(Biopsy, Lymph Node)

Definition

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 all or part of a lymph node so it can be further examined.

Reasons for Procedure

This biopsy is done to find out why a node is swollen. Swelling may be caused by infection, cancer, or another disease such as sarcoidosis.
Common areas for biopsy include:
  • Groin
  • Armpit
  • Neck
  • Under the jaw and chin
  • Behind the ears

Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Swelling
  • Nerve damage, including numbness at the biopsy site, which usually resolves in a few months

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

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.

Anesthesia

  • Local anesthesia—Just the area that is being operated on is numbed.
  • General anesthesia is used for open biopsies—General anesthesia blocks pain and keeps you asleep through the procedure.

Description of the Procedure

Lymph nodes samples can be obtained by:
  • Needle biopsy
  • Open biopsy
Needle 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.
An ultrasound or CT scan may be used to help locate the biopsy site.
Lymph Node Biopsy
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Open Biopsy
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.

Immediately After Procedure

The sample will be sent to the lab for examination.

How Long Will It Take?

About 30-60 minutes—longer if an ultrasound or CT scan is used

How Much Will It Hurt?

You will have some pain and tenderness after the biopsy is taken. Your doctor may give you pain medication.

Post-procedure Care

Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions. Results will be ready in about a week. Your doctor will tell you if further treatment is needed.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if any of these occur:
  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
  • New or unexpected symptoms
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.

RESOURCES

American Cancer Society  https://www.cancer.org 
National Cancer Institute  https://www.cancer.gov 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Cancer Society  https://www.cancer.ca 
Cancer Care Ontario  https://www.cancercare.on.ca 

References

Sentinel lymph node biopsy. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/staging/sentinel-node-biopsy-fact-sheet. Updated August 11, 2011. Accessed April 17, 2018.
Testing biopsy and cytology specimens for cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis/tests/testing-biopsy-and-cytology-specimens-for-cancer.html. Accessed April 17, 2018.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcie L. Sidman, MD
  • Review Date: 03/2018
  • Update Date: 03/18/2013
Article written by Kellicker PG