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Diagnosing Leukemia

How is Leukemia Diagnosed?

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Updated May 28, 2014

A doctor may suspect you have leukemia after completing a physical or if you report experiencing the symptoms of leukemia. There are instances where leukemia is suspected from results of blood tests performed for other reasons. There are several tests a doctor may use to diagnose leukemia, ranging from blood tests to spinal taps.

Tests and Procedures Performed to Diagnose Leukemia

Physical Exam During a physical exam, a doctor may look for lumps, other abnormalities, or symptoms of leukemia. A thorough medical history will be taken and the patient can report a history of leukemia or any symptoms or risk factors.

Blood Tests Blood tests, like a CBC (complete blood count> can detect leukemia. A CBC determines the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. It also can count the number of red blood cells that make up the blood sample and the amount of hemoglobin in the blood.

A peripheral blood smear may also be done. A peripheral blood smear determines the presence of blast cells and reveals the type and quantity of white blood cells.

Cytogenic analysis is a blood test in which a sample of blood is examined to check for changes in the chromosomes of the lymphocytes. This blood test may also be ordered.

A doctor may order other blood tests to see how organs are functioning. This can reveal is cancer is affecting the organ's functionality.

Biopsy A biopsy is a procedure in which a sample od cells are removed from the body to be examined for cancer. Bone marrow aspiration is a type of biopsy used to diagnose leukemia. A fine needle is inserted into the hip or breast bone and a sample of the bone and bone marrow is removed. It is then examined by a pathologist.

A lymph node biopsy made be performed also, depending on the type of leukemia suspected. A lymph node is removed and then examined by a pathologist.

Lumbar Puncture/Spinal Tap A lumbar puncture or spinal tap may be done to diagnose leukemia. Under an anesthetic, a small amount of spinal fluid is removed from the spaces between the vertebrae in the spine. The fluid is then examined by a pathologist.

Other Medical Tests and Procedures Used to Diagnose Leukemia Other procedures like CT scans, X-Rays, MRI's, and ultrasounds may be used to diagnose leukemia.



Source:
Canadian Cancer Society. How is Leukemia Diagnosed?; February 16, 2006.
National Cancer Insitute. Adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (PDQ®): Treatment; May 16, 2005
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