Bone Marrow Aspiration and Biopsy

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed: February 12, 2020

What is bone marrow?

Bone marrow is a spongy substance found inside our large bones, such as the femur (thigh), hips, and ribs. It is made up of cells called hematopoietic stem cells. Hematopoietic stem cells are "baby" cells that grow up to become either white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets. The bone marrow acts as a greenhouse for these cells, growing them and storing them until they are needed. Unfortunately, sometimes cancer cells can find their way into the bone marrow, making it difficult for the marrow to do its job of producing healthy blood cells.

What is a bone marrow biopsy?

Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy are tests to check how your bone marrow is working or to check for the presence of cancer cells. Bone marrow aspiration uses a needle to take a sample of bone marrow fluid from inside the bone. Bone marrow biopsy uses a needle to take a small sample of the bone and marrow. These samples are then looked at and tested under a microscope. This may be done before therapy to check the condition of the marrow or after treatment to check how your body has responded to treatment.

What can I expect during the procedure?

The procedure is done by a provider in your hospital room or in the outpatient clinic. The area used for a bone marrow aspiration is the hip or breast bone. The area used for the bone marrow biopsy is the hip. You will be asked to position yourself on your stomach or side, so the area can be reached easily. If both an aspiration and biopsy are to be performed, it is likely that your provider will do both on a hip bone. Your provider will explain the procedure as it is performed, but these are the steps, so you will know what to expect:

  • The skin will be cleaned with an antiseptic soap, which might feel cold.
  • The area where the sample will be taken will be "numbed" with lidocaine. The lidocaine may burn but this feeling only lasts a few seconds. A small needle is used to give the numbing medicine in the area.
  • After the numbing medicine has had a few minutes to work, a needle will be inserted into the bone and bone marrow fluid will be taken out with a syringe. You may feel a pulling or drawing sensation down the leg while the sample is being taken. This will only last a few seconds.
  • If a biopsy is ordered, it is done right before or after the aspiration by inserting a needle into the bone and removing a small sample. During this part of the procedure, you may feel the pressure of the needle and a sharp, sucking sensation as the marrow is pulled into the needle.
  • In most cases, the entire procedure takes 20 - 30 minutes. A bandage will be placed on the area after the procedure.
  • After the numbing medicine wears off, you may feel some discomfort at the site of the needle insertion. Walking may lessen this discomfort.

Instructions for after the procedure:

  • Keep the bandage clean and dry for 24 hours. After this time, you can remove the bandage and bathe or shower.
  • If bleeding occurs after your bone marrow aspiration or biopsy, apply pressure to the area and call your provider.
  • Call your provider if pain persists for more than 24 hours in the area where you had your biopsy or aspiration.
  • Call your provider right away if you notice redness or drainage at the site or if your temperature is 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher.
  • Call your provider if you have numbness or weakness in the area where you had the bone marrow or down your leg.

Be sure to ask your healthcare provider if you have any other questions about your bone marrow aspiration and/or biopsy.

References

Cancer.net. Bone Marrow Aspiration and Biopsy. 2016. Found at: http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/diagnosing-cancer/tests-and-procedures/bone-marrow-aspiration-and-biopsy

Medline Plus. Bone marrow aspiration. 2014. Found at: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003658.htm

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