Definition This test involves taking a small tissue sample, or biopsy, from one or more lymph nodes.
The lymph nodes are small, round glands found throughout the body interconnected by lymph vessels. This forms a circulatory system all its own called the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system produces white blood cells that attack foreign particles, such as bacteria, other microorganisms, parasites or cells such as cancer cells. In many diseases, the lymph nodes become enlarged when they become more active. Analysing a biopsy of the swollen lymph nodes can reveal the nature of the suspected disease.
Who is a candidate for the test? The test is usually done when cancer or infection is suspected. The test checks to see if abnormal white blood cells or cancer cells are present.
How is the test performed? There are two ways in which the biopsy is taken; a needle biopsy or an open biopsy.
A needle biopsy is taken as follows: The lymph node to be biopsied is identified. The skin over the area is scrubbed with antiseptic, and a local anaesthetic is injected under the skin. When the skin is numb, a biopsy needle is placed through the skin and into the lymph node. A small tissue sample is removed when the needle is withdrawn.
An open biopsy involves removing all or part of a lymph node through surgery. The nature of the surgery and anaesthetic depends upon the size and location of the tissue to be removed.
After the biopsy sample is available, it is taken to the laboratory for study.
What is involved in preparation for the test? Specific instructions are available from the doctor.
What do the test results mean? Abnormal results may reveal different kinds of diseases, such as infection, noncancerous tumours or cancer.
Author: David T. Moran, MD Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia Last Updated: 1/10/2001 Contributors Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request
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