Neck lymph node ultrasound and biopsy for lung cancer

You might have this test if your doctor has seen changes in the lymph nodes in your neck on a CT scan. It can find out if there are cancer cells in the lymph glands.

Diagram showing the lymph nodes in the head and neck

Your doctor uses an ultrasound scanner to help them take a small amount of lymph node tissue using a fine needle.

Ultrasound scans use high frequency sound waves to create a picture of a part of the body. The ultrasound scanner has a microphone that gives off sound waves. The sound waves bounce off the structures inside your body, and the microphone picks them up. The microphone links to a computer that turns the sound waves into a picture.

You normally have this test as an outpatient procedure in the imaging department of the hospital.

Preparing for your test

Check your appointment letter to find out how to prepare.

You sign a consent form before the test. This is a good time to make sure you ask the doctor any questions you have.

You should be able to eat and drink normally beforehand.

Take your usual medicines as normal unless your doctor tells you otherwise. If you take medicines to thin your blood, you need to stop them before your biopsy. Your doctor will tell you when to stop them.

Before the test

When you arrive at the department, a nurse asks you to change into a gown. Then they take you to the test room.

Having the test

The ultrasonographer puts a cold lubricating gel over your neck. Then they put the ultrasound probe against your skin. 

You might feel a little pressure when the radiographer moves the probe over your neck. Tell them if it is uncomfortable. It shouldn’t hurt. The doctor and ultrasonographer can see the lymph nodes on the screen.

Your doctor cleans your skin and numbs the area with local anaesthetic. This might be an anaesthetic gel or an injection. 

Your doctor then puts the fine needle through your skin and into the lymph node tissue. They take out one or more samples through the needle and into a syringe. They send the samples to a laboratory for tests under a microscope.

This test takes about 10 to 15 minutes.

After the test

You should be able to go home the same day.

You have a small dressing over the biopsy site. Ask your nurse how to look after this for the next few days.

Possible risks

A neck lymph node biopsy is a very safe procedure but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems afterwards. Your doctors will make sure the benefits of having a neck lymph node biopsy outweigh these possible risks.

Possible risks include:

Bleeding

You might see a small amount of blood on the dressing after the biopsy. Let your doctor or nurse know straight away if there is a lot of bleeding.

Infection

Contact your GP or the hospital if you have a high temperature or feel ill. Let them know if there is swelling at the biopsy site.

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks. Contact your doctor if you haven’t heard anything after this time.

Waiting for test results or for further tests can be very worrying. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse and you can contact them for information if you need to. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

For support and information, you can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, from Monday to Friday.

Related links