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Bone marrow test

Learn about bone marrow tests and how you have them.

Why you have it

You have this test to check whether there are lymphoma cells in your bone marrow. Bone marrow is spongy tissue and fluid that is inside your bones. It makes your blood cells.

How you have it

A doctor or specialist nurse removes an area of bone marrow in one piece, from your hip bone or breast bone. Doctors can then look at the tissue under a microscope.

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You have the test in the outpatient department of the hospital. The test takes a few minutes.

You have a local anaesthetic to numb the area, so you are awake.

Types of biopsy

There are 2 main types of bone marrow test: 

  • bone marrow aspiration
  • bone marrow trephine biopsy

Aspiration means the doctor or nurse sucks some liquid bone marrow up into a syringe.

A bone marrow trephine means that they remove a 1 or 2cm core of bone marrow in one piece.

You usually have both of these tests done at the same time. They give some of the same information to the doctor, but there are differences. The bone marrow trephine shows the structure of the bone marrow inside the bone, whereas the aspiration takes just the bone marrow cells.

What happens?

Your doctor gives you information about the procedure and asks you to sign a consent form. This is a good time to ask any questions you have.

You change into a hospital gown and lie on your side with your knees tucked up into your chest.

Your doctor or nurse cleans the area with some antiseptic fluid, which can feel cold. You then have an injection into the skin over the biopsy site to numb the area. They put a thin needle through the skin into the hip bone. This might be uncomfortable but this only lasts a short time. 

Your doctor or nurse sucks a small amount of liquid bone marrow into the needle, using a syringe. You feel a pulling sensation when they start drawing the bone marrow cells out. 

They take the needle out and put in a second one if you're having a trephine biopsy as well. The aim is to get a small amount of marrow out in one piece.

The whole test takes around 30 minutes.

After your bone marrow test

If you have a sedative, you need to stay at the hospital for a few hours until it has worn off. And you need someone with you so that you don't have to go home on your own.

You can go home that day if you are feeling well enough.

You have a dressing over the area, which you should keep on for 24 hours. If you notice any bleeding, apply pressure to the area. Contact the hospital if the bleeding doesn't stop.

After the test, your hip might ache for a couple of days. You may need some mild painkillers such as paracetamol to take at home.

Possible risks from bone marrow test

A bone marrow test is very safe and any risks are small. 

During the procedure there is a very small risk of damage to nearby structures, but this is very rare.  

Bleeding

It's not unusual to have a small amount of bleeding from the area where the needle went in. If you notice any heavy bleeding, apply pressure to the area. If it doesn't stop, contact the hospital.

Bruising

Sometimes blood leaks out of the vein and collects under your skin. This can look like a small dark swelling under the skin (haematoma). Pressing hard once the needle is removed can help

Infection

There is a small risk of getting an infection in the wound. Tell your doctor if you have a temperature or if the area becomes red and sore. 

Pain

Some people feel uncomfortable and have pain after the local anaesthetic has worn off. Your nurse will tell you what painkillers to take. If you have severe pain or it's getting worse then you should contact the hospital.

Tingling in your leg

You may have some tingling in your leg which wears off with time.

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 worrying time. You can contact your specialist nurse if you’re finding it hard to cope. It can also help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

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

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

Last reviewed: 
01 Nov 2017
  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures, 9th Professional Edition
    L Dougherty and S Lister (Editors) (Royal Marsden Manual Series)
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

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