Lymph node biopsy
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.
Biopsy - lymph nodes; Open lymph node biopsy; Fine needle aspiration biopsy; Sentinel lymph node biopsy
How the Test is Performed
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 sentinel lymph node biopsy, and it involves:
Lymph node biopsies in the belly may be done with a laparoscope. This is a small tube with a light and camera that is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen. The lymph node is located and a piece of it is removed. This is usually performed under general anesthesia, which means the person having this procedure will be asleep and pain-free.
After the sample is removed, it is 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.
How to Prepare for the Test
Tell your provider:
Your provider may ask you to:
You must sign a consent form.
How the Test will Feel
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 or laparoscopic biopsy, the pain is mild and you can easily control it with an over-the-counter pain medicine. 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.
Why the Test is Performed
The test is used to diagnose cancer, sarcoidosis, or an infection (such as tuberculosis):
The results of the biopsy help your provider 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 provider decide about further tests and treatments.
What Abnormal Results Mean
Abnormal results may be due to many different conditions, from very mild infections to cancer.
For example, enlarged lymph nodes may be due to:
Lymph node biopsy may result in any of the following:
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Biopsy, site-specific - specimen. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:199-202.
Young NA, Dulaimi E, Al-Saleem T. Lymph nodes. In: Bibbo M, Wilbur DC, eds. Comprehensive Cytopathology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 25.
Review Date: 5/24/2016
Reviewed By: Mary C. Mancini, MD, PhD, Department of Surgery, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-Shreveport, Shreveport, LA. 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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