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bone marrow aspiration

Alternative Names 
bone marrow tap

Bone marrow aspiration is a procedure in which a sample of bone marrow is removed with a special needle. The sample can then be examined with a microscope to look for various diseases or conditions.

Bone marrow is a soft material in the middle of certain bones in the body. The bone marrow makes and stores blood cells, such as red and white blood cells and cells called platelets.

Who is a candidate for the procedure? 
This procedure may be advised when a doctor suspects or is concerned about:
  • blood cancer, such as leukaemia, which often starts in the bone marrow.
  • other cancer in the body, such as breast cancer, that may have spread to the bone marrow.
  • infection in the bone marrow.
  • certain types of anaemia, or low red blood cell count.
  • other low blood cell counts, such as a low white blood cell count. White blood cells are the infection-fighting cells of the body.
How is the procedure performed? 
Bone marrow samples are usually taken from the pelvic bone or breastbone, also called the sternum. The skin over the bone is first cleaned with an antiseptic solution. A local anaesthetic, or numbing medication, is injected to prevent pain. Once the area is numbed, a special needle attached to a syringe is inserted into the bone marrow. A small sample of marrow is sucked, or aspirated, into the syringe and placed on a glass microscope slide. The slide can then be examined under a microscope.

What happens right after the procedure? 
This procedure may be done in the doctor's office or in a hospital. If the procedure is done in the office or there is no need to stay in the hospital, people can usually go home shortly after the procedure. Analgesia may be given for when the local anaesthetic wears off.

What happens later at home? 
Some mild soreness at the sight of the procedure may occur. Pain medication may be given or people can use over-the-counter pain relievers. The results of the procedure often take a few days to come back. The doctor should discuss the results with the person once they are available. The procedure may reveal a wide range of findings, from a normal bone marrow to an infection or even cancer.

What are the potential complications after the procedure? 
The procedure carries a risk of bleeding, infection, and damage to the tissues around the area where the needle is inserted. Pain rarely lasts more than a few days.

Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 21/09/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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