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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Happens During the Test?

This 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 to numb the area, so that you won't feel the biopsy. The anesthetic may sting for a few seconds. 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.

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