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Diagnostic-Procedures

Bone marrow biopsy

The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on September 21, 2021.

During a bone marrow biopsy, a needle is used to collect a sample of bone marrow—the spongy tissue inside large bones—so it may be tested. The needle enters through the skin and goes through muscle and the outer edge of the bone to reach the marrow.

Your doctor may recommend this procedure to check whether bone marrow is healthy and producing a normal amount of blood cells. The biopsy may help your cancer care team determine how well certain types of blood cancer treatments—such as for leukemia, lymphoma or multiple myeloma—are working. A bone marrow biopsy may also help determine whether cancer has grown or spread.

Before the biopsy

  • Find the right facility for you: A bone marrow biopsy may be performed at a specialist’s office or at a hospital. Speak with your care team about where you may be most comfortable.
  • Keep your medical records organized: The technologist may ask for personal and medical histories, including past surgeries and a list of current medications you’re taking.
  • Discuss any personal risk factors: Alert your care team if you’re pregnant or have any medication allergies or bleeding problems.
  • Review instructions for food and drink: Your preparation is based on your doctor’s orders, so ask about food and drink intake ahead of the procedure.
  • Dress accordingly: You may be asked to disrobe for the procedure, so it may be more convenient to wear loose clothing that’s easy to remove. The facility typically provides a wrap or gown for you to wear.
  • Manage your anxiety: If you know you’ll have anxiety before the procedure, you may consider speaking with your doctor about ways to manage it, such as taking an anti-anxiety medication.
  • Allot enough time: The entire procedure typically takes less than 30 minutes, but you may be there longer, preparing for the procedure and possibly resting afterward.

During the biopsy

  • Get as comfortable as possible: You may be asked to lie on the procedure table on your side or stomach, depending on the biopsy site.
  • Be ready for what you may feel: A local anesthetic is administered to numb the tissue around the bone. After a slight stinging sensation, the area goes numb. When the large needle is inserted into the biopsy site to withdraw the bone marrow sample, you may feel a dull, aching pain for a few moments.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up: It’s not uncommon to feel anxious or a little scared during a bone marrow biopsy, so speak up if you feel too uncomfortable or need more anesthetic.
  • Lean on a friend or family member: If you have anxiety, it may help to bring someone for support. Check with the facility to see whether there are any restrictions.

After the biopsy

  • Take care of the area: Leave the bandage in place and keep the biopsy area as clean and dry as possible for as long as your doctor recommends.
  • Know your pain relief options: If you continue to feel pain, you may be able to take an over-the-counter pain reliever, as recommended by your doctor.
  • Know when to expect your results: Biopsy results are typically processed and shared within two to three days after the procedure, but a more thorough analysis may take between seven to 10 days. Plan to receive a full explanation of results from your doctor. 
 

Possible risks

You may experience some achiness or mild discomfort for a week after the biopsy, as well as some bleeding or bruising at the puncture site. Serious bleeding or infection is rare. If you have any concerns, speak directly with your care team.