Bone marrow aspiration
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Bone marrow is the soft tissue inside bones that helps form blood cells. It is found in the hollow part of most bones. Bone marrow aspiration is the removal of a small amount of this tissue in liquid form for examination.
Bone marrow aspiration is not the same as bone marrow biopsy. A biopsy removes actual marrow for examination.
Iliac crest tap; Sternal tap
How the Test is Performed
Bone marrow aspiration may be done in the health care provider's office or in a hospital. The bone marrow is removed from your pelvic or breast bone. Occasionally, another bone is selected.
Marrow is removed in the following steps:
- If needed, you are given medicine to help you relax.
- The health care provider cleans the skin and injects numbing medicine into the area and surface of the bone.
- A special needle is inserted into the bone. The needle has a tube attached to it, which creates suction. A small sample of bone marrow fluid flows into the tube.
- The needle is removed.
- Pressure and then a bandage are applied to the skin.
The bone marrow fluid is sent to a laboratory and examined under a microscope.
How to Prepare for the Test
Tell the health care provider:
- If you are allergic to any medications
- If you are pregnant
- If you have bleeding problems
- What medications you are taking
You must sign a consent form for the procedure.
How the Test will Feel
You will feel a sting and slight burning sensation when the numbing medicine is applied. You may feel pressure as the needle is inserted into the bone, and a sharp and usually painful sucking sensation as the marrow is removed. This feeling lasts for only a few seconds.
Why the Test is Performed
Your doctor may order this test if you have abnormal types or numbers of red or white blood cells or platelets on a complete blood count.
This test is used to diagnose:
- Anemia (some types)
- Other blood cancers and disorders
It may help determine whether cancers have spread or responded to treatment.
The bone marrow should contain the proper number and types of:
- Blood-forming (hematopoietic) cells
- Connective tissues
- Fat cells
What Abnormal Results Mean
Abnormal results may be due to cancers of the bone marrow, including:
Abnormal results may also be due to other causes, such as:
There may be some bleeding at the puncture site. More serious risks, such as serious bleeding or infection, are very rare.
Choby B. Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. In: Pfenninger JL, Fowler GC, eds. Pfenninger & Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 205.
Hutchison RE, McPherson RA, Schexneider KI. Basic examination of blood and bone marrow. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 30.
- Last reviewed on 5/29/2014
- Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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