A lymph node biopsy is the removal of lymph node tissue for examination under a microscope.
The lymph nodes are small glands that make white blood cells (lymphocytes), which fight infection. Lymph nodes may trap the germs that are causing an infection. Cancer often spreads to lymph nodes.
A lymph node biopsy is done in an operating room in a hospital. Or, it is done at an outpatient surgical center. The biopsy may be done in different ways.
An open biopsy is surgery to remove all or part of the lymph node:
For some cancers, a special way of finding the best lymph node to biopsy is used. This is called sentinal lymph node biopsy, and it involves:
The sample is then sent to the laboratory for examination.
A needle biopsy involves inserting a needle into a lymph node. This type of biopsy is done less often because the results are not as helpful as with an open biopsy.
Tell your health care provider:
Your doctor may ask you to:
You must sign a consent form.
When the local anesthetic is injected, you will feel a prick and a mild stinging. The biopsy site will be sore for a few days after the test.
After an open biopsy, the pain is mild and you can easily control it with an over-the-counter pain medication. You may also notice some bruising or fluid leaking for a few days. The incision should heal in 10 to 14 days. Follow instructions for taking care of the incision. While the incision is healing, avoid any type of intense exercise or heavy lifting.
The test is used to diagnose cancer, sarcoidosis, or an infection (such as tuberculosis):
The results of the biopsy help your doctor decide on further tests and treatments.
If a lymph node biopsy does not show any signs of cancer, it is more likely that other lymph nodes nearby are also cancer-free. This information can help the health care provider decide about further tests and treatments.
Abnormal results may be due to many different conditions, from very mild infections to cancer.
For example, enlarged lymph nodes may be due to:
Biopsy - lymph nodes; Open lymph node biopsy; Fine needle aspiration biopsy; Sentinel lymph node biopsy
Chang KL, Arber DA, Weiss LM. Lymph nodes. In: Weidner N, Cote RJ, Suster S, Weiss LM. Modern Surgical Pathology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 41.
Updated by: John A. Daller, MD, PhD, Department of Surgery, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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