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What is a Bone Marrow Test?

Marrow is the spongy tissue in the center of large bones that makes blood cells. A bone marrow test takes a small sample of bone marrow in order to examine it under a microscope and check for disease. It may be done to diagnose conditions such as anemia, certain infections, or cancers of the blood such as leukemia or lymphoma. It also may be done to see how chemotherapy is affecting the production of blood cells.

A bone marrow test is most often done in the pelvic bone, at the edge of the hip, but it can also be performed in the breast bone or other large bones. The area is cleaned and numbed, and a long needle is inserted into the bone. The next part of the procedure depends on the type of test that is being taken.

There are two kinds of bone marrow tests: aspiration and biopsy. Often both are done at the same time. During an aspiration, the needle simply extracts a small amount of fluid and the cells it contains. If a biopsy is also being performed, a thin hollow tube removes a tiny solid core of tissue to be examined.

Although a bone marrow test is usually performed on an outpatient basis and is relatively quick and safe, there is sometimes some pain during the procedure. It is best to arrange for someone to drive you home afterwards and to take it easy for the next day until you have recovered.