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Lymph Node Biopsy
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

Lymph Node Biopsy Overview

Written by FoundHealth.


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 inflammatory diseases, abscesses, and cancer.

With this type of biopsy, the doctor removes and examines all or part of a lymph node.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

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:
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (eg, aspirin )
  • Blood thinners, such as clopidogrel (Plavix) or warfarin (Coumadin)
  • Arrange for a ride home from the care center.
  • The night before, do not eat or drink 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 (used for open biopsies)—blocks pain and keeps you asleep through the surgery; given through an IV in your hand or arm

Description of the Procedure

Lymph nodes samples can be obtained by:

  • Needle biopsy
  • Open biopsy

Needle Biopsy

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.

The doctor may use an ultrasound or CT scan to help locate the biopsy site.

Lymph Node Biopsy
Lymph Node Biopsy
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Open Biopsy

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.

Immediately After Procedure

The sample will be sent to the lab for examination.

How Long Will It Take?

About 30-60 minutes (longer if an ultrasound or CT scan is used)

How Much Will It Hurt?

You will have some pain and tenderness after the biopsy is taken. Your doctor may give you pain medicine.

Post-procedure Care

When you return home after the procedure, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:

  • Keep the biopsy site clean and dry.
  • Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions .

Results will be ready in about a week. Your doctor will tell you if further treatment is needed.



American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute


Canadian Cancer Society

Cancer Care Ontario


Lymph node biopsy. US National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus website. Available at: . Updated August 2008. Accessed September 21, 2009.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy: questions and answers. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: . Updated April 2005. Accessed September 21, 2009.

Swollen glands. US National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus website. Available at: . Updated April 2009. Accessed September 21, 2009.

Testing biopsy and cytology specimens for cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: . Updated December 2007. Accessed September 21, 2009.

Zaret BL, Jatlow PI, Katz LD. The Yale University School of Medicine Patient’s Guide to Medical Tests. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company; 1997.



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