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What is Bone Marrow and Does a Bone Marrow Biopsy Hurt?

written by: Vasanth • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 6/12/2010

When a doctor recommends a bone marrow biopsy, it is common for the patient to ask, "Does a bone marrow biopsy hurt?" The short answer is yes. The procedure requires needles which produces both dull and sharp pains at various steps of the biopsy. There is a risk of complications as well.

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    What is Bone Marrow?

    Bone marrow is the tissue responsible for the production of various types of blood cells including red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. There are two types of bone marrow: red marrow and yellow marrow. Red marrow is located within the flat bones of the body such as the hip, breast bone and shoulder blade. Yellow marrow is located in the middle portion of long bones. A bone marrow biopsy extracts red marrow.

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    When is a Biopsy Recommended?

    The primary reason for a bone marrow biopsy is to determine how well the bone marrow is functioning. The biopsy is usually a follow-up test when a complete blood count reveals an abnormal blood count. The bone marrow biopsy is ordered to help identify the cause of abnormal blood counts. Also, a bone marrow biopsy can reveal how far a particular type of cancer has progressed. By examining the bone marrow, the effectiveness of cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can be determined.

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    The Procedure

    The bone marrow biopsy is a procedure in which a needle is inserted into the hip bone to remove a portion of the marrow. Does a bone marrow biopsy hurt? It sounds painful. The skin is disinfected and anesthetized before the biopsy needle is inserted. Once the needle has penetrated the bone, the center of the needle is removed. The hollow space within the needle captures marrow as the needle is pushed further into the bone. Afterward, the needle is removed and the marrow is examined.

    A bone marrow biopsy is usually preceded by a bone marrow aspiration, in which the liquid that surrounds the marrow in the bone is extracted. A smaller needle and a syringe is used to remove the liquid. Then the biopsy is performed.

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    Pain and Complications

    Does a bone marrow biopsy hurt? Anytime a needle is inserted into the body, pain sensations are felt. During a bone marrow biopsy, expect a sharp pain and burning sensation when the anesthesia is initially injected. When the biopsy needle penetrates the bone, you will experience dull pain and general discomfort. As the liquid portion is extracted, expect a sharp pain that quickly subsides.

    After the procedure, the biopsy area is susceptible to infection and uncontrolled bleeding. As the anesthesia wears off, pain at the biopsy site may return.

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    Examining the Bone Marrow

    The bone marrow samples are evaluated by pathologists and hematologists. They determine whether the cells in the sample are normal and present in the correct numbers. If the bone marrow contains a low red blood cell count, anemia is suspected. If the bone marrow has abnormal white blood cells, the patient may have leukemia.

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    Reference

    1. "Bone Marrow." ScienceDaily. 2010. Web. 12 June 2010.

    2. Dugdale, David C. "Bone Marrow Biopsy." Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 11 July 2008. Web. 12 June 2010.

    3. "Bone Marrow Biopsy." eMedicineHealth. WebMD, Inc. 2010. Web. 12 June 2010.



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