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 testsWe 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.
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.