Bone marrow biopsy

A bone marrow biopsy is where a small sample of bone marrow is taken from the back of the hip bone (pelvis) or occasionally the breastbone (sternum). This is looked at to see if there are any abnormal cells.

What is a bone marrow biopsy?

Bone marrow is spongy material found inside the bones. Blood cells are made in the bone marrow.

A biopsy is when a doctor or specialist nurse removes a small piece of tissue or a sample of cells from the body. This is then checked under a microscope by a doctor who specialises in studying blood cells (haematologist).

For a bone marrow biopsy, a small sample of bone marrow is taken from the back of the hip bone (pelvis). Rarely, the sample is taken from the breastbone (sternum).

Having a bone marrow biopsy

You have a bone marrow biopsy at a hospital. You may have it on the ward or in the outpatient department. The appointment takes about 20 to 30 minutes. But the bone marrow biopsy itself only takes a few minutes. If you take medicine to thin the blood, tell the doctor or nurse before the biopsy.

Before the biopsy, your doctor or nurse gives you injections of local anaesthetic. This is to numb the area. Or they may give you gas and air to breathe in through a mouthpiece or mask. This helps reduce any discomfort during the biopsy. You can ask for medicine to help you relax (sedatives).

If you are having the biopsy from your hip, you lie on your side. The doctor or nurse puts a needle through the skin and into the bone. Then they withdraw a small sample of liquid from inside the bone marrow into a syringe. This is called a bone marrow aspirate. It contains the bone marrow cells.

It may feel uncomfortable for a few seconds when the liquid marrow is withdrawn into the syringe. Some people feel a pain in their leg while the sample is being taken.

You may also have a small core of bone marrow taken. This is called a trephine biopsy. Doctors use this biopsy to get more information about the bone marrow structure. It is taken in the same way as an aspirate, but with a slightly larger needle.

After a bone marrow biopsy

After the biopsy, the doctor or nurse will put a dressing over the area to keep it clean. You can remove this after 24 hours. If you had a sedative, you should:

  • not drive for 24 hours
  • have someone to take you home
  • have someone to stay with you overnight.

You may ache or feel bruised for a few days. Taking painkillers such as paracetamol can help.