Lymph Node Biopsy

Lymph node biopsy is a test in which a lymph node or a piece of a lymph node is removed for examination under a microscope.

The lymphatic system is made up of lymph nodes connected by lymph vessels. The nodes produce white blood cells (lymphocytes) that fight infections. When an infection is present, the lymph nodes swell, produce more white blood cells, and attempt to trap the organisms that are causing the infection. The lymph nodes also try to trap cancer cells.

How the Test is Performed

The test is done in an operating room in a hospital, or at an outpatient surgical facility. There are two ways the sample may be obtained:

Needle biopsy

Open biopsy

A needle biopsy involves inserting a needle into a lymph node. You will lie on the examination table. The biopsy site will be cleansed, and the health care provider will inject a local anesthetic (numbing medication) into the area. The biopsy needle is then inserted into the node, and a sample is removed. Pressure is applied to the site to stop the bleeding, and a bandage is applied.

An open biopsy is surgery to remove all or part of the lymph node. You will lie on the examination table. You may be given a medicine to calm you and make you sleepy, if you prefer. The biopsy site will be cleansed, and the health care provider will inject a local anesthetic (numbing medication) into the area. (Occasionally, general anesthesia is used, which means you are asleep and pain-free.) A small surgical cut is made, and the lymph node or part of the node is removed. The area is closed with stitches and a bandage is applied.

The sample is then sent to the laboratory for examination.

How to Prepare for the Test

Tell your health care provider:

If you are pregnant

If you have any drug allergies

If you have bleeding problems

What medications you are taking (including any supplements or herbal remedies)

You must sign a consent form.

How the Test Will Feel

When the local anesthetic is injected, there will be a prick and a mild stinging. The biopsy site will be sore for a few days after the test.

Why the Test is Performed

The test is used to help determine the cause of swollen glands. It may be done to find out if a lymph node tumor is cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign).

Normal Results

Swollen lymph nodes may be caused by a number of conditions, ranging from very mild infections to cancer.

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:

Hodgkin's lymphoma

Infection

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

Sarcoidosis

Risks

Bleeding

Infection

Nerve injury if the biopsy is done on a lymph node close to nerves