Bone Marrow Examination Information

What is bone marrow?

Bone marrow is the sponge-like tissue in the interior of bones which produces red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. In adults, few bones still contain this important tissue: hip bones, shoulder bones, ribs, breastbone, vertebrae, and the skull. In infants, all bones contain active bone marrow.

Why is a bone marrow examination performed?

A bone marrow examination provides more detailed information about the structure, production, and maturity of blood cells. Bone marrow examination is helpful in the diagnosis of many conditions including leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes, and myeloproliferative disorders. Bone marrow examination may also be used to determine the stage of a disease or to monitor treatment.

How is the bone marrow examination done?

A bone marrow examination is composed of two parts, bone marrow aspirate and bone marrow biopsy. One or both of these procedures may be performed. Bone marrow aspirate is usually done first, and is performed by inserting a special needle into the bone, typically the hip bone in adults, and removing a small sample of liquid marrow. A bone marrow biopsy is performed in a similar manner. A small cylindrical sample of solid bone marrow, known as a core biopsy, is removed. The samples are then sent to the laboratory for examination.

What is done with the bone marrow sample?

The bone marrow sample is sent to the laboratory for analysis. It is often put in a fixative solution, which helps to preserve the tissue prior to specimen processing. The tissue is put on to glass slides, stained, and examined by a pathologist using a microscope. The results of examination may confirm or rule out a diagnosis, determine the stage of a disease, or show if treatment is working.

Are there any risks of a bone marrow examination?

There may be some pain or discomfort after the bone marrow examination, which will vary by person. Pain and discomfort can be minimized by following the correct site care procedures provided by your doctor, such as keeping the biopsy site dry for 24 hours and avoiding intense physical activity for a day or two after the procedure. Complications are rare and often mild. Talk to your doctor about the potential risks of the bone marrow biopsy procedure.