In order to make a diagnosis of leukemia, the doctor will need to perform a physical exam, ask about the patient's personal and family medical history, and order laboratory tests. Tests that are used to make a diagnosis may include blood tests and a biopsy. Other tests that may be helpful include such things as a spinal tap, immunophenotyping, and a chest x-ray.
If a person has possible leukemia symptoms, the doctor will need to perform a physical exam, ask about the patient's personal and family medical history, and order laboratory tests (especially blood tests).
During the physical exam, the doctor will examine the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. Healthcare providers will also take and review a history of the patient's health habits, past illnesses, and treatments.
Exams and tests that are used to make a leukemia diagnosis may include blood tests and a biopsy.
Blood tests are used to check the level of blood cells because leukemia causes:
- A very high level of white blood cells
- Low levels of platelets
- Low levels of hemoglobin, which is found inside red blood cells.
The lab may also check the blood for signs that leukemia has affected the liver and kidneys.
A biopsy (the removal of tissue to look for cancer cells) is the only sure way to know whether leukemia cells are in the bone marrow. During a biopsy the doctor will remove some bone marrow from the hipbone or another large bone. A pathologist will then examine the sample under a microscope.
There are two ways the doctor can obtain bone marrow: a bone aspiration and a bone marrow biopsy. Some patients will have both procedures. In a bone marrow aspiration, the doctor will use a needle to remove samples of bone marrow. In a bone marrow biopsy, the doctor will use a very thick needle to remove a small piece of bone and bone marrow.