Lymph Node Biopsy
(Biopsy, Lymph Node)
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:
- Under the jaw and chin
- Behind 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:
- 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
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.
Lymph Node Biopsy
How Much Will It Hurt?
You will have some pain and tenderness after the biopsy is taken. Your doctor may give you pain medication.
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: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/staging/sentinel-node-biopsy-fact-sheet. 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 March 2016 by Mohei Abouzied, 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.