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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. Test results from a lymph node biopsy are usually available within a few days. Finding some types of infections may take longer.

    The lymph node sample is usually treated with special dyes (stains) that color the cells and make problems more visible.

    Lymph node biopsy

    The lymph node has normal numbers of lymph node cells.

    The structure of the lymph node and the appearance of the cells in it are normal.

    No signs of infection are present.


    Signs of infection, such as mononucleosis (mono) or tuberculosis (TB), may be present.

    Cancer cells may be present. Cancer may begin in the lymph node, such as Hodgkin's lymphoma, or may have spread from other sites, such as in metastatic breast cancer.

    What Affects the Test

    A needle biopsy takes tissue from a small area, so there is a chance that a cancer may be missed.

    What To Think About

    • Cancer that begins in the lymph nodes (lymphoma) is the most common form of cancer in teens and young adults. Even though most enlarged lymph nodes are not caused by lymphoma, it is important to have enlarged lymph nodes that do not go away checked by your doctor.
    • Looking at a lymph node under a microscope does not always give a clear diagnosis. In these cases, other tests are needed to find the cause of the problem.
    • If an infection is present, a culture of the lymph node may be done to find what is causing the infection.
    • Sometimes a lymph node sample is treated with special markers (antibodies) that attach to abnormal cells. Marker studies may be done to find lymphomas and other types of cancer.
    • Sentinel node biopsy may be done instead of removing an entire group of lymph nodes. A sentinel node is the first lymph node to which a certain cancer would travel. In some cases, there may be more than one sentinel node. Sentinel node biopsy takes out less tissue, and it does not cause as many problems with lymphedema. To learn more, see the topic Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy.
    • Some lymph node biopsies may be done using special tools in which a thin lighted tube is used to take out a lymph node:
      • Laparoscopy uses a lighted viewing scope (laparoscope) to look inside the belly and take a biopsy of lymph nodes. It may be done to find cancer that has spread in the belly. To learn more, see the topic Laparoscopy.
      • Mediastinoscopy uses a lighted viewing scope (mediastinoscope) to look inside the chest. The scope can be used to take out samples of lymph nodes in the chest to see if lung cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. To learn more, see the topic Mediastinoscopy.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    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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