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Lymph node biopsies

What is a lymph node biopsy?

The lymph nodes are responsible for filtering out harmful substances in the body and respond to infection. Swollen lymph nodes are an indication of infection, and a lymph node biopsy may be done to investigate chronic infections, immune disorders and help diagnose cancer.

How is a lymph node biopsy done?

There are three types of lymph node biopsies:

  • Fine needle aspiration – this biopsy is done under anaesthesia by inserting a needle into a lymph node to extract fluid and cells for testing.
  • Core needle biopsy – this biopsy is done with local anaesthesia where a hollow needle is used to take a sample of tissue for testing.
  • Open biopsy – this is done under anaesthesia and involves a part of the lymph node being cut out after which your surgeon will close the incision with absorbable stitches or surgical staples.

Why would a lymph node biopsy be done?

A lymph node biopsy is done when the lymph nodes are swollen, indicating infection in the body and the source is unknown. It is also used to diagnose cancer. Which of the three biopsies will be done depends on your specific case and severity of inflammation in the lymph nodes. 

How long will I be in hospital?

Most patients are able to go home on the same day as the biopsy, no matter which type is done. How soon you will be discharged from hospital depends on whether you are able to drink liquids when waking up, how much pain you have and whether you have someone to look after you at home.

What will happen after a lymph node biopsy?

Depending what type of biopsy is done, Dr Noorbhai will send the sample off to the laboratory for testing and call you when the results become available within a few days. If further testing is needed, you may have to wait a bit longer for results. He will check individually for cancer cells in the sample, and if not present he will evaluate the results to find the cause of your swollen lymph nodes. You will instructed on how to look after the biopsy site afterwards. Following your biopsy you may experience the following:

  • Pain and tenderness in the biopsy site.

You should re-consult if you have an unusually high temperature, chills, vomiting, swelling around the incisions and have discharge or bleeding from the biopsy site as emergency care may be needed.

How soon after the surgery can I resume normal activities?

You will be able to resume normal activities soon after your surgery; however, it is important to start slowly. If you experience pain during a certain activities, stop that activity. You may not do any heavy lifting or vigorous physical activity for at least 6 weeks after your procedure. You may return to driving after 2 weeks once your groin pain has subsided, and resume light physical activity after 3 weeks. It may take up to 6 weeks for a full recovery.

What are the potential risks and complications a lymph node biopsy?

The risk of complications include:

  • Tenderness around the biopsy site.
  • Bleeding.
  • Infection.
  • Nerve damage may cause numbness.
  • Lymphedema (swelling of the area) if the lymph node is removed.
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