A lymph node biopsy is the removal of lymph node tissue for examination under a microscope.
The lymph nodes are small glands that make white blood cells (lymphocytes), which fight infection. Lymph nodes may trap the germs that are causing an infection. Cancer often spreads to lymph nodes.
Biopsy - lymph nodes; Open lymph node biopsy; Fine needle aspiration biopsy; Sentinel lymph node biopsy
How the Test is Performed
A lymph node biopsy is done in an operating room in a hospital. Or, it is done at an outpatient surgical center. The biopsy may be done in different ways.
An open biopsy is surgery to remove all or part of the lymph node:
- You lie on the examination table. You may be given medicine to calm you and make you sleepy.
- The biopsy site is cleansed.
- The health care provider injects a local anesthetic (numbing medicine) into the area. Sometimes, general anesthesia is used, which means you are asleep and pain-free.
- A small surgical cut (incision) is made. The lymph node or part of the node is removed.
- The incision is closed with stitches and a bandage is applied.
- An open biopsy may take 30 to 45 minutes.
For some cancers, a special way of finding the best lymph node to biopsy is used. This is called sentinel lymph node biopsy, and it involves:
- A tiny amount of a tracer, either a radioactive tracer (radioisotope) or a blue dye, is injected at the tumor site.
- The tracer or dye flows into the nearest (local) node. This node is called the sentinel node. It is the first lymph node to which a cancer spreads.
- The sentinel node and possibly one or two other lymph nodes are removed.
Lymph node biopsies in the belly may be done with a laparoscope. This is a small tube with a light and camera that is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen. The lymph node is located and a piece of it is removed. This is usually performed under general anesthesia, which means the person having this procedure will be asleep and pain-free.
After the sample is removed, it is sent to the laboratory for examination.
A needle biopsy involves inserting a needle into a lymph node. This type of biopsy is done less often because the results are not as helpful as with an open biopsy.