Diagnosing Leukemia

If you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of leukemia, your physician will perform a physical exam and review your medical history. Further tests will be ordered to determine a diagnosis.

Common blood tests for leukemia include:

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
    Tests to measure levels of red cells, white cells and platelets in the body as well as how the cells look.
  • Peripheral Blood Smear
    Blood cells are dyed and looked at under a microscope for the presence of immature “blast” cells.

Summary of Leukemia Bloodwork Results

Disease

CBC Results

Blood Smear Results

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML)

Lower than normal amounts of red blood cells and platelets

Too many immature white cells

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

Lower than normal amounts of red blood cells and platelets

Too many immature white cells

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)

Red blood cell count is decreased and the white cell count is often very high

Platelet levels may be increased or decreased depending on the stage of the disease

May still show some immature white cells

Mainly high numbers of fully mature, but dysfunctional cells

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Red cells and platelets may or may not be decreased

Increased numbers of lymphocytes
 

Little or no immature white cells

Possibly fragments of red cells

 

Bone Marrow Tests (Aspiration and Biopsy)
A biopsy is a procedure in which a sample of cells is removed for examination by a pathologist. Bone marrow aspiration is another type of biopsy - a fine needle is inserted into the hip or breast bone, removing a sample of bone and bone marrow. These tests look at the cells in the marrow for any sign of cancer. The tests are usually done together at the same time, and may be done in the doctor’s office or in a hospital outpatient setting.

 

Spinal Fluid Testing (Lumbar Puncture)
This tests the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord to determine if there are any leukemia cells present, under anesthetic a small amount of spinal fluid is removed. This can be done in the doctor’s office or in a hospital outpatient setting; the fluid removed will be examined by a pathologist.

 

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