Lymph Node Biopsy

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Lymph Node Overview

Your lymph nodes are located in various regions of your body, most notably your neck, armpits, behind the ears, and in the belly, chest, and groin; as part of the immune system, these small glands create white blood cells that fight infection, as well as impede the spread of germs.

Purpose of the Lymph Node Biopsy

Some of the more common reasons for performing a lymph node biopsy include:

  • Lymph nodes that become and remain swollen over a period of time.
  • Ongoing fever, weight loss, chronic infections, night sweats, or other unexplained symptoms.
  • Gathering information for ‘staging” the most efficient plan for treating cancer or infections already known to have spread to the lymph nodes.

Types of Lymph Node Biopsy

A lymph node biopsy is performed as an outpatient procedure in a hospital or other outpatient surgical facility, or in your physician’s office.

There are three types of lymph node biopsies, depending on your doctor’s recommendation as the one suited to your particular case.

  • Needle Biopsy (10 – 15 minutes)

After cleaning and applying a numbing medication to the area, a fine needle is inserted into the lymph node to remove a small sample of cells for testing. This type of biopsy covers only a small area, leaving open the possibility that cancer could be overlooked.

  • Open Biopsy (30 – 45 minutes)

Local or general anesthesia is used to allow the doctor to make a small cut to remove a portion of/or entire lymph node. The site is then stitched and bandaged. Pain following is usually mild, requiring only OTC (over-the-counter) medications.

During the healing period of 10-14 days, strenuous activity should be avoided.

  • Sentinel Biopsy (The more complicated of lymph node biopsies)

If cancer is already present, a sentinel biopsy uses an injection of dye or radioactive “tracer” near the current site so that it will travel to the nearest (sentinel) lymph node. The doctor then removes this node to check for cells that are cancerous, the results helping determine where cancer may have spread. If there are no signs of cancer, it is likely that lymph nodes close-by are also free of cancer.

The information helps the doctor determine what other tests and treatments will be most useful.

Risks Associated with a Lymph Node Biopsy

As with any surgical procedure, there are risks involved with a lymph node biopsy. These include:

  • Tenderness around the surgical site.
  • Bleeding.
  • Infection (rarely).

* Incidental nerve damage, causing numbness that usually disappears within a few weeks.

Preparation for a Lymph Node Biopsy

During the initial examination, inform your physician if you are or could be pregnant. Provide a complete list of your medications, particularly blood thinners such as aspirin, Coumadin, Plavix, etc. Also, include supplements or herbal medicines.

Inform your physician of allergies, problems with bleeding, and your medical history. Address any questions or concerns you might have, such as potential risks, expected recovery, and what the results will mean regarding your treatment.

What the Results of a Lymph Node Biopsy Can Mean

  • Normal – Biopsy shows a normal count of lymph node cells.
  • Abnormal – Biopsy reveals an abnormal count of lymph node cells, indicating signs of infection such as TB (tuberculosis), mono (mononucleosis), and others. It may also indicate the presence of cancer cells that either began in the lymph node itself or have spread to the location from one or more other sites.

The treatment addressing an abnormal outcome will differ according to any number of variables, all of which your doctor will discuss with you.


General Surgeons

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