What Is a Bone Marrow Biopsy? - Procedure, Recovery & Side Effects

Instructor: Marisela Duque

Marisela teaches nursing courses at the college level. She also works as a unit educator, teaching experienced nurses about changes in nursing practice.

After completing this lesson, you will have an understanding of what a bone marrow biopsy is and be able to describe the procedure, recovery process and side effects. A short quiz follows this lesson.


Much in the same way that mechanics need to look under the hood to tell you what's wrong with your car, doctors also need to look inside the body to diagnose and treat certain illnesses. Modern science has made countless diagnostic tools available to doctors and one such tool is a bone marrow biopsy. This test can help people with certain blood related illnesses and cancer get the answers they need regarding their health.

What Is a Bone Marrow Biopsy?

A medical procedure in which bone marrow is extracted for testing. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside of most of your bones that is responsible for making blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets). This procedure can be done in a doctor's office or hospital.

Sometimes this procedure is done along with a bone marrow aspiration in which a sample of the liquid portion of the bone marrow is also removed for testing. A bone marrow biopsy can help to diagnose a variety of illnesses associated with blood cells such as types of anemia, infections, and leukemia. It is also done to see if cancer has spread or how the body is responding to cancer treatment.

The whole procedure is done rather quickly. In fact, the actual biopsy part is usually over in about 10 minutes. First, your doctor may offer you sedation to help you relax, you'll be awake during the procedure but you will not feel pain or remember what happened during this time (much like the feeling you get when you have one too many beers, minus the ugly hangover). Then you will be asked to lie down while the area where the doctor will perform the test is marked and cleaned (to prevent any infections).

This test is usually performed on the back of the hip bone (posterior iliac crest). Then a numbing agent will be injected to ensure that you remain pain-free. The doctor then inserts a long, hollow needle into the bone to suck up a sample of the bone marrow (like a straw). If you don't receive the sedation then you'll feel a quick, sharp pain when the needle is inserted.

The sample is then sent to the laboratory for testing and it may take a few days to receive the results. Once the procedure is complete the doctor or nurse will apply pressure to site of the needle insertion and then cover it with a band-aid. If you receive sedation, you'll be asked to rest there until the medication wears off.

bone marrow aspiration

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