Fine needle aspiration (FNA)

Your doctor might use a fine needle aspiration to take a sample of cells from a swollen lymph node in the neck. It helps them to see if cancer cells have spread there.

Preparing for the test

Check your appointment letter for exactly how to prepare. You sign a consent form before the test. This is a good time to ask the doctor any questions that you have.

You should be able to eat and drink normally before the test.

Take your medicines as normal unless you're told otherwise. If you're taking medicines to thin your blood, your doctor might ask you to stop them beforehand.

Having a fine needle aspiration of lymph nodes in the neck

You might have an injection of local anaesthetic into the area over the lymph node. Your doctor gently pushes a thin, hollow needle through the skin and into the lymph gland. They draw out a small amount of fluid and cells with a syringe. If the lump is too deep to feel easily, you might have an ultrasound scan at the same time to help your doctor guide the needle into the right place.

The doctor sends the sample to the laboratory for examination under a microscope. They might put a small dressing over the area. Let your doctor or nurse know if the area bleeds or if there is a lot of bruising.

After the test

You can usually go home later the same day and can eat and drink normally. 

The area might feel sore for a few days and your nurse will give you painkillers to take. Let your nurse know if you have swelling or pain.

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks at a follow up appointment. 

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

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

Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

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