Leukemia: Diagnosis

A physician may detect an enlarged spleen, liver, or lymph nodes during a physical exam. A laboratory test called a Complete Blood Count will indicate whether a patient’s blood is producing abnormal cells. Further tests may be ordered by a hematologist who specializes in blood diseases.

A bone marrow may be taken to determine what cells are affected and what type of leukemia is present. After numbing the area—usually the back of the hip—physicians insert a needle into the bone to extract the marrow cells. They then examine those cells under a microscope and test them for certain genetic changes.

In some forms of leukemia, it may also be necessary to perform a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to see if leukemia cells have penetrated the nervous system.

Patients with AML may need further tests to determine the extent of the cancer and classify it into a more specific AML subtype. This typing is based on how your cells appear when examined under a microscope. Special laboratory testing may also be used to identify the specific characteristics of AML cells.

Leukemia patients may also have the following tests

  • Cytogenetic studies that evaluate chromosomal changes in cells.
  • Immunohistochemistry studies that use antibodies to distinguish types of cancer cells.
  • Flow cytometry that analyzes cells by passing them through a laser beam to look at proteins on surface of the cell.
  • Molecular genetic studies that determine the specific traits of cancer cells.