Diagnosing Leukemia and Lymphoma

When you’re navigating a possible leukemia or lymphoma diagnosis, you want clear, accurate answers as quickly as possible. Henry Ford’s experts have the skill and expertise to diagnose all types of blood and lymph cancer.

Newly diagnosed?

Contact the cancer team 24/7 by calling (888) 777-4167 or request an appointment online.

How we diagnose leukemia and lymphoma

Certain symptoms may suggest you have leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma or a related condition, such as aplastic anemia. Learn about types of blood cancer and their symptoms.

You’ll need tests to confirm the specific type and stage of cancer you have. Your doctor will conduct a physical exam to look for symptoms such as pale skin or enlarged lymph nodes, spleen and liver. Our specialists may also recommend one or more diagnostic tests, including:

Blood tests

We draw blood and test it in our on-site laboratory. These tests tell us if you have abnormal levels of red or white blood cells or platelets.

Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy

In these tests, we collect samples of bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside your larger bones. Aspiration and biopsy are typically performed together:

  • Bone marrow aspiration: Your doctor inserts a long, hollow needle with a syringe attached into your hip bone to withdraw a fluid sample of bone marrow.
  • Bone marrow biopsy: Your doctor then uses the needle to remove a sample of the solid portion of bone marrow.

You receive local anesthesia, or in some cases, sedation through a vein (IV) to make the procedure more comfortable. These procedures usually take about 30 minutes. You can return to normal daily activities when you’re ready, although you may feel tenderness for a week or more.

Imaging tests

Leukemia doesn’t form tumors, so imaging tests aren’t as useful in diagnosing the disease. However, we use imaging tests to stage lymphomas and myeloma, and to help detect bone damage caused by myeloma. Imaging tests may include:

  • CT scan: X-rays and special computers combine to create detailed images of sections of the body.
  • MRI: Magnets and radio waves create highly detailed pictures inside the body.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: This test uses small amounts of radioactive material (tracers) to detect abnormal cells and check your organ function.
  • X-ray: We use radiation to create black-and-white pictures of the inside of your body.

Lumbar puncture (or spinal tap)

We use this procedure to check for blood cancer cells in the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Your doctor numbs your lower back with a local anesthetic and inserts a needle between two vertebrae (bones in your spine) and into your spinal canal. Once the needle is positioned, we measure spinal fluid pressure and collect a sample.

Lymph node biopsy

This procedure tests enlarged lymph nodes for cancerous cells. We do lymph node biopsies in two ways:

  • Needle biopsy: Your doctor inserts a thin needle to remove a sample of cells.
  • Open biopsy: Your doctor makes a small incision to remove the lymph node.

Genetic testing for leukemia and lymphoma

We use highly advanced molecular genetic tests called next-generation sequencing to look for gene mutations that may affect your diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan. Next-generation sequencing can also help us recommend appropriate treatment if the condition returns in the future.

Other organ-specific tests

Leukemia and lymphoma may affect organs throughout the body. Your cancer care team works with other Henry Ford specialists to assess these effects and improve your diagnosis and treatment plan.

Treatment for leukemia and lymphoma

After you receive a diagnosis, your care team will create a customized treatment plan based on your unique needs and preferences. Learn about treatment for leukemia or lymphoma. We also provide resources and education for you and your family through our cancer support services team.

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