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Specialist Haematology Services

Bone Marrow Harvesting


Introduction Show [+]Hide [-]

What is a bone marrow harvest?

Some patients who have a serious illness affecting the blood or bone marrow may need to have a bone marrow transplant as part of their treatment. To perform the transplant, bone marrow is removed from the donor and given to the patient in order to create a new and healthy bone marrow and blood system in the patient’s body. For some patients, it may be possible to harvest their own bone marrow and then return it to them in a procedure known as an autologous transplant. In either case, the process of bone marrow harvesting is exactly the same.

Is bone marrow harvesting safe?

Whether you are a patient having an autologous transplant or a healthy person donating marrow for someone else, you will undergo a thorough medical assessment beforehand. This is to ensure that you will not be put at undue risk by the operation. If you are a donor, a senior doctor who is not directly involved in the care of the recipient will be responsible for your welfare.

Bone marrow harvesting has been carried out for many years on both donors and patients and is generally considered to be a safe procedure. Your doctor will be pleased to discuss the details of your particular case with you.

During your procedureShow [+]Hide [-]

How is bone marrow harvesting carried out?

Bone marrow harvesting is carried out under general anaesthetic. Once you are asleep, you will be turned over so that you are lying face down. A small puncture is made in the skin on the back of the hips on both sides.

A needle is inserted into the upper rim of the hip bone. The needles are hollow and syringes can be attached to them to draw out the bone marrow. At the start of the procedure, a drug that prevents the marrow from clotting will be injected into your bloodstream, making it easier to draw out.

Two doctors carry out the harvesting at the same time, one working on each side. As the doctors draw out the bone marrow, they transfer it into blood collection bags. It is possible take around one and a half litres of bone marrow from an adult donor.

At the end of the harvest, the needles are removed and a small dressing placed over each puncture.

After your procedureShow [+]Hide [-]

What happens afterwards?

Once you have recovered from the anaesthetic, you will return to the ward for an overnight stay. You will probably have a drip to replace the fluid that was taken from your body during the harvesting procedure.

Later in the day, you will be able to start eating and drinking again. There is likely to be some soreness or discomfort from the puncture sites after the anaesthetic wears off. The ward staff will be able to give you appropriate painkilling medication.

Sometimes, the puncture sites may bleed a little after you have returned to the ward. If this happens, the nursing staff will clean the sites and replace dressings as necessary.

How long will I be in hospital?

If you are a donor, the day after the harvest your blood will be checked and provided you feel well enough, you will be able to go home. Very rarely, bone marrow donors feel unwell the day after the procedure and stay in hospital for a little longer.

If you are a patient, you might stay in hospital at this point and start further treatment leading up to an autologous transplant. Alternatively, we may simply want to store your bone marrow at this point, in which case you may be able to go home the day after the harvest.

The doctors and nurses caring for you will be able to provide you with the information and advice you need. Please let them know if you have any concerns.

Are there any long-term effects for donors?Show [+]Hide [-]

The bone marrow harvest is likely to leave you a little anaemic. This is even more likely if you have a tendency to be anaemic. You may be asked to take iron tablets for a while to help correct this.

For one or two weeks after the harvest, you are likely to notice that you feel more tired than usual and perhaps a little lacking in energy. We would normally advise that you take the rest of the week off work following your discharge from hospital.

Many donors feel ready to go back to work the following week, although those whose jobs involve heavy manual work may need to take a little more time off.

Discomfort around the puncture sites may persist for a little while. Simple painkillers, such as paracetamol, should be sufficient to relieve this. People with a tendency towards back problems may find that these are aggravated by the bone marrow harvest. You will be advised at your medical assessment beforehand if it is felt that this will be a particular risk in your case.

In the long term, bone marrow donation appears to have very little risk for donors. The procedure has been carried out successfully for many years. If you have any problems or concerns afterwards, the transplant team is always on hand to provide help and advice.

Further advice and informationShow [+]Hide [-]

If you have any problems, or need any further advice, please contact:

Bone Marrow Transplant Team

Telephone: (0191) 282 9543 
Telephone: (0191) 282 9544
Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5pm

Ward 8

Telephone: (0191) 282 5008 at all times

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