The development of distant metastases is the major cause of death in breast cancer (BC). In many BC cases, metastases are present in patients with no metastasis-positive lymph nodes (LN). Hence, there is a need to improve prognosis by a better prediction of the nodal status and tumor spread. The current study is designed to develop and utilize new functional characteristics of the cells and microenvironment of BC-draining LN, which may help to improve the estimation of LN metastatic involvement. Innovative devices and methodologies were developed for collecting, transferring, and analyzing LN at an individual-cell resolution. Using these devices, a suspension of living cells were prepared from the LN and processed for various assays, including immunophenotypic analysis, activation status, and invasion activity. The functional profile of tumor-activated LN cells showed an increase in the intracellular enzymatic reaction rate, accompanied by a homogeneous distribution of transferrin receptor as well as by a significant increase in matrix metalloproteinase proteolytic activity. Moreover, the proportion of cells exhibiting such a profile was significantly higher in tumor-containing LN than in tumor-free LN. Thus, the live and postfixation features of LN cells and their microenvironment, correlated with the functional status of the LN, may serve to improve their predictive value in breast cancer examination. (Cancer Sci 2008; 99: 936–945)