By modifying a clinical ultrasound array system, we develop a novel handheld photoacoustic probe for image-guided needle biopsy. The integration of optical fiber bundles for pulsed laser light delivery enables photoacoustic image-guided insertion of a needle into rat axillary lymph nodes with accumulated indocyanine green (ICG). Strong photoacoustic contrast of the needle is achieved. After subcutaneous injection of the dye in the left forepaw, sentinel lymph nodes are easily detected, in vivo and in real time, beneath -thick chicken breast overlaying the axillary region. ICG uptake in axillary lymph nodes is confirmed with fluorescence imaging both in vivo and ex vivo. These results demonstrate the clinical potential of this handheld photoacoustic system for facile identification and needle biopsy of sentinel lymph nodes for cancer staging and metastasis detection in humans.