Lymph Node Biopsy

The lymphatic system is a network of channels distributed throughout the body. These are similar to blood vessels, but carry lymph (a liquid consisting of white blood cells and serum) from tissues back into the major blood vessels. Along the way, lymph nodes interrupt these channels and act like filters. These filters may swell when an infection is nearby as they remove infected material from the lymph. When a cancer is nearby, the lymph may carry cancer cells.

A lymph node that is palpable is almost always surgically removed. It is then sent to the pathology laboratory to be tested microscopically for the presence of malignant cells. If any are found, the rest of the nodes in that basin will also be removed, and treatments that stimulate the immune system and/or chemotherapy will be recommended.

The treatment process will depends on the location of the lymph nodes to be biopsied. Fortunately many lymph nodes, such as those in your neck, armpits, and groin, are found close to the surface of the skin. These can all be reached through an incision in the skin.

Some lymph nodes are located deeper in your body, such as in the middle of your chest. To reach them, your doctor may insert a tube-like viewing instrument (a scope) through a slit in the skin into the target area to see the lymph nodes, and then remove them with tiny surgical scissors located at the end of the scope. Sometimes removing lymph nodes for microscopic examination requires surgery.

When lymph nodes beneath the skin are biopsied, you lie on an examining table. The doctor cleans the skin at the biopsy site and injects a local anesthetic. Next, the doctor makes a small incision in the skin and the tissue just beneath it until he or she can see the lymph node and cut it out. Following such a biopsy, it’s normal to bleed slightly. After applying pressure to the incision site to stop the bleeding, the doctor will cover the area with a bandage. You’ll usually be able to go home within several hours.When a biopsy involves inserting a scope, or surgery, general anesthesia may be required.

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

After an open biopsy, the pain is mild and you can easily control it with an over-the-counter pain medication. You may also notice some bruising or fluid leaking for a few days. The wound should heal in 10 – 14 days. During this time, avoid any type of intense exercise or heavy lifting.

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