The human body has more than 500 lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small lumps of tissue containing white blood cells — and although they’re small, they’re essential for optimal well-being.

Your lymph nodes support your immune system, help your body fight infections, and filter lymph fluid. They also play an integral role in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

So if you’re undergoing testing for cancer, your doctors might recommend a lymph node biopsy to confirm or rule out a diagnosis. Traditional biopsy requires open surgery, but at the Center for Minimally Invasive and Robotic Surgery, located in Peoria, Arizona, our team specializes in robotic and laparoscopic lymph node biopsy.

Rachel Alt, MD, Brian Prebil, DO, and our team use robotic surgery for lymph node biopsies whenever possible because it’s minimally invasive, extremely accurate, and less disruptive than traditional methods.

If you need a lymph node biopsy, now’s the time to take a closer look at lymph nodes and how they work.

What are lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes are part of your lymphatic system — a complex network of organs and vessels that support your body’s immune system. This network transports and filters lymph fluid, and lymph nodes are located throughout your body in your:

  • Abdomen
  • Armpits
  • Chest
  • Neck
  • Groin

Lymph fluid is clear and watery, and it contains materials like waste products and white blood cells. Lymph nodes filter your lymph fluid, helping your immune system eliminate infections and other foreign materials so you stay healthy.

Why do lymph nodes get swollen?

Sometimes, inflammation or infection can make the lymph nodes swell. One of the most common causes is an upper respiratory infection. Depending on the cause, you might also notice swollen lymph nodes in your head, neck, armpits, or groin.

Swelling that’s caused by a minor infection typically goes away on its own. However, you should visit your primary care provider if your swollen lymph nodes:

  • Stay swollen for longer than two weeks
  • Feel hard or rubbery
  • Don’t move when you press them
  • Grow rapidly
  • Accompany other symptoms like fever, night sweats, or weight loss

These symptoms could indicate cancer or lymphoma, and additional testing is required to confirm or rule out a diagnosis.

What happens during a lymph node biopsy?

If you have swollen lymph nodes, it could be a sign of cancer. Your doctor may order a lymph node biopsy to determine what, if any, disease is affecting your lymph node and causing your symptoms.

Lymph node biopsy involves taking a sample of cells for testing. We may recommend taking a small tissue sample or removing an entire lymph node.

Dr. Alt and Dr. Prebil use minimally invasive techniques to perform lymph node biopsies. We may do a needle biopsy or sentinel biopsy to collect the sample. Once your biopsy is complete, the cells are sent to a lab for analysis.

Your biopsy results determine your next steps. If cancer is identified, your doctor works with you to develop a treatment plan. The right treatment for you will depend on the type of cancer you have, how advanced it is, and whether it has spread.

Swollen lymph nodes could necessitate a biopsy to diagnose or rule out cancer. With a minimally invasive biopsy, you don’t have to undergo open surgery to get your results. Contact our Peoria, Arizona, office at 623-227-2581 or send our team a message online to learn more.

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