Is a Lymph Node Biopsy?
Lymph nodes are small, oval-shaped organs located in different
regions of your body. They are found close to internal organs such as the
stomach, intestines, and lungs, and are most commonly noted in the armpits, the
groin, and the neck. Lymph nodes are part of your immune system, and they help
your body to recognize and fight off infections. A lymph node may swell in
response to an infection somewhere in your body. Swollen lymph nodes can appear
as a lump underneath your skin.
Your doctor may find swollen or enlarged lymph nodes during a
routine examination. Swollen lymph nodes that result from minor infections or
insect bites typically don’t require medical attention. However, your doctor
may monitor and check your swollen lymph nodes after a few weeks. If your lymph
nodes remain swollen or grow even larger, your doctor may order a lymph node
biopsy to look for evidence of a chronic infection, immune disorder, cancer, or
Are the Types of Lymph Node Biopsy?
A lymph node biopsy is an outpatient procedure that can take
place at a hospital, in your doctor’s office, or in other medical facilities. A
doctor can remove the entire lymph node or take a tissue sample from the
swollen lymph node. Once the doctor removes the sample, they send it to a
pathologist, who examines the lymph node or tissue sample under a microscope.
There are three ways to perform a lymph node biopsy.
A needle biopsy takes about 10 to 15 minutes. While you’re lying
on an examination table, your doctor will clean the biopsy site and apply
medication to numb the area. Your doctor will insert a fine needle into your
lymph node and remove a small sample of cells. They’ll then remove the needle
and put a bandage on the site.
This procedure removes either a portion of your lymph node or the
entire lymph node. Your doctor can perform an open biopsy with local
anesthesia, using a numbing medication applied to the biopsy site. You can also
request general anesthesia to sleep through the procedure.
The entire procedure takes between 30 and 45 minutes. Your doctor
- make a small cut
- remove the lymph node
- stitch the biopsy site
- apply a bandage
Pain is generally mild after an open biopsy, and your doctor may
recommend over-the-counter pain medications. It takes about 10 to 14 days for
the incision to heal. You should avoid strenuous activity and exercise while
your incision heals.
If you have cancer, your doctor may perform a sentinel biopsy to
determine where your cancer is likely to spread. In this procedure, your doctor
will inject a blue dye or tracer near the cancer site, which travels to the
closest lymph node. Your doctor will then remove this lymph node and check it
for cancerous cells.
Are the Risks Associated with a Lymph Node Biopsy?
There are risks involved with any type of surgical procedure. Notable
risks from a lymph node biopsy include:
- tenderness around the biopsy site
- numbness caused by incidental nerve damage
Infection is relatively rare and can be treated with antibiotics.
Numbness can occur if the biopsy is in close proximity to nerves. Any numbness
normally disappears within a couple of months.
Do I Prepare for a Lymph Node Biopsy?
Before scheduling your lymph node biopsy, tell your doctor about
any medications that you’re taking. This includes non-prescription medications such
as aspirin or other blood thinners and supplements. Tell your doctor if you’re
pregnant, and tell them about any medication allergies, latex allergies, or bleeding
Because a lymph node biopsy is a surgical procedure, stop taking
prescription and non-prescription blood thinners at least five days before your
scheduled procedure. Don’t eat or drink several hours before your scheduled
Is the Recovery Process After a Lymph Node Biopsy?
Pain and tenderness can last for a few days after a biopsy. Once
you get home, keep the biopsy site clean and dry at all times. Your doctor may ask
you to avoid showers or baths for a couple of days after the surgery. You
should also pay close attention to the biopsy site and your physical condition
after surgery. Call your doctor if you show signs of an infection or
- intense pain
- bleeding or discharge from the biopsy site
Do the Results Mean?
On average, test results are ready within five to seven days.
Your doctor may call you with the results, or you may need to schedule a
follow-up office visit. The test could potentially indicate that your lymph
nodes do not have signs of cancer. However, if cancer cells are detected in the
biopsy, it could be a sign of one of the following conditions:
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- breast cancer
- lung cancer
- oral cancer
Abnormal results can also mean you have an infection or immune
system disorder, such as:
- HIV or another sexually transmitted disease,
such as syphilis or chlamydia
- rheumatoid arthritis
- cat scratch fever
- an infected tooth
- a skin infection
- systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), or lupus
If your doctor completes a lymph node biopsy and rules out
cancer, they may order additional medical tests to determine the underlying
cause of your enlarged lymph nodes.
Talk with your doctor if you have questions about the results of
your lymph node biopsy. If your doctor believes you need further medical tests,
carefully review the procedure for the tests so that you can eliminate any
doubts or questions beforehand.