Lymph Node BiopsyEn Español (Spanish Version)
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.
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
Leading up to your procedure, you will need to:
Talk to your doctor about your medical history, including:
- Any allergies that you have
Any medicines you take, including over-the-counter drugs and herbs and supplements. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines up to one week before the procedure, like:
- 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; given as an injection and may also be given with a sedative
- General anesthesia
is used for open biopsies—blocks pain and keeps you asleep through the surgery; given through an IV in your hand or arm
Lymph nodes samples can be obtained by:
There are two types of needle biopsies:
- Fine needle biopsy
—The doctor will use a thin, hollow needle to obtain tissue samples.
- Core needle biopsy—The doctor will use a larger needle to cut out a piece of tissue.
Lymph Node Biopsy
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
An open biopsy means removing the lymph nodes through an incision. The doctor will cut into the skin and remove either all or part of a lymph node. After removal, the incision will be closed with stitches and bandaged.
The sample will be sent to the lab for examination.
About 30-60 minutes—longer if an ultrasound or CT scan is used.
You will have some pain and tenderness after the biopsy is taken. Your doctor may give you pain medicine.
When you return home after the procedure, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
- Keep the biopsy site clean and dry.
- Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
Be sure to follow your doctor's
Results will be ready in about a week. Your doctor will tell you if further treatment is needed.
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
- New or worsening symptoms
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
National Cancer Institute
Sentinel lymph node biopsy: questions and answers. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
. Updated August 11, 2011. Accessed April 29, 2013.
Testing biopsy and cytology specimens for cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
. Updated March 7, 2013. Accessed April 29, 2013.
Zaret BL, Jatlow PI, Katz LD.
The Yale University School of Medicine Patient’s Guide to Medical Tests.
New York: Houghton Mifflin Company; 1997.
Last Reviewed April 2013