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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 and examines all or part of a lymph node.
  • Reasons for Procedure

    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:
    • Groin
    • Armpit
    • Neck
    • Under the jaw and chin
    • Behind the ears
  • Possible Complications

    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:
    • Bleeding
    • Infection
    • Swelling
    • Nerve damage, including numbness at the biopsy site
  • 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.
    • 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
    Nucleus factsheet image
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
    Lymph Node Biopsy
    Nucleus factsheet image
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
    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

    Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
    • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
    • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
    • New or worsening symptoms
    If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.

    American Cancer Society

    National Cancer Institute


    Canadian Cancer Society

    Cancer Care Ontario


    Sentinel lymph node biopsy. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated August 11, 2011. Accessed February 24, 2015.

    Testing biopsy and cytology specimens for cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed February 24, 2015

    Revision Information

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