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Lymph Node Biopsy

A lymph node biopsy removes lymph node tissue to be looked at under a microscope for signs of infection or a disease, such as cancer. Other tests may also be used to check the lymph tissue sample, including a culture, genetic tests, or tests to study the body's immune system camera.gif (immunological tests).

Lymph nodes are part of the immune system. They are found in the neck, behind the ears, in the armpits, and in the chest, belly, and groin.

Lymph nodes in healthy people are usually hard to feel. But lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin can get bigger and become tender. Swollen lymph nodes usually mean an infection. But the swelling can also be caused by a cut, scratch, insect bite, tattoo, drug reaction, or cancer.

There are several ways to do a lymph node biopsy. The lymph node sample will be looked at under a microscope for problems.

  • Fine-needle aspiration biopsy. Your doctor inserts a thin needle into a lymph node and removes a sample of cells.
  • Core needle biopsy. Your doctor inserts a needle with a special tip and removes a sample of tissue about the size of a grain of rice.
  • Open (surgical) biopsy. Your doctor will make a small cut in the skin and remove a lymph node. If more than one lymph node is taken, the biopsy is called a lymph node dissection. Open biopsy and lymph node dissection let your doctor take a bigger sample than a needle biopsy.

Why It Is Done

Lymph node biopsy is done to:

  • Check the cause of enlarged lymph nodes that do not return to normal size on their own.
  • Check the cause of symptoms, such as an ongoing fever, night sweats, or weight loss.
  • Check to see if a known cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. This is called staging and is done to plan cancer treatment.
  • Remove cancer.

How To Prepare

Tell your doctor if you:

  • Are taking any medicines or supplements (such as vitamins or herbal remedies).
  • Are allergic to any medicines, including anesthetics.
  • Are allergic to latex.
  • Have any bleeding problems or take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix).
  • Are or might be pregnant.

You will be asked to sign a consent form that says you understand the risks of the test and agree to have it done.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the biopsy, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of the biopsy, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

If you take a blood thinner, you will probably need to stop taking it for a week before the biopsy.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 18, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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