Bone marrow culture is an examination of the soft, fatty tissue found inside certain bones. This tissue, called bone marrow, produces blood cells. This test is done to find out if there is an infection inside the bone marrow.
Culture - bone marrow
How the test is performed
The doctor removes a sample of your bone marrow from the back of your pelvic bone or breast bone. This is usually done with a small needle inserted into your bone, which is called a bone marrow aspiration or a biopsy.
The removed tissue is sent to a lab. It is placed into a special container called a culture dish. Every day, the laboratory specialist will look at the tissue under a microscope to see if any bacteria, fungi, or viruses have grown.
If any bacteria, fungi, or viruses are found, other tests may be done to learn which drugs will kill the organisms. Treatment can then be started based on these results.
How the test will feel
You may feel pressure and pain as the marrow is being removed. (You may be given some numbing medicine, called anesthesia, before the procedure.)
Soreness at the site usually lasts from a few hours to 1-2 days.
Why the test is performed
You may have this test if you have an unexplained fever or if your health care provider thinks you have an infection of the bone marrow.
No growth of bacteria, viruses, or fungi in the culture is normal.
What abnormal results mean
Abnormal results suggest that you have an infection of the bone marrow. The infection may be from bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
What the risks are
Fluid (aspirate) or a piece of tissue (biopsy specimen) from the bone marrow may be sent to the laboratory for many different types of tests. These tests study how immature blood cells look, and how they are developing.
Castro-Malaspina H, O'Reilly R. Aplastic anemia and related disorders. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 171.
Murray PR, Witebsky FG. The clinician and the microbiology laboratory. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Disease. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 227.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.