The most common test for a leukemia diagnosis is a complete blood count (CBC), which is a diagnostic test that provides information about the cells in a person’s blood. A CBC will detail the counts of white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets, as well as the concentration of hemoglobin and hematocrit in a person’s blood. A patient with abnormal levels of white blood cells or abnormally low levels of red blood cells or platelets may be diagnosed with leukemia.
What happens after an abnormal CBC?
A patient who receives an abnormal CBC will be sent to a specialist for a bone marrow aspiration and/or bone marrow biopsy. During these procedures, the specialist will remove a sample of bone marrow from the patient’s hipbone using a long, thin needle. (During an aspiration, the specialist removes liquid bone marrow while a biopsy removes a small piece of bone and marrow.) The sample(s) will be sent to a laboratory for analysis. If leukemia is confirmed based on this biopsy, the cancer will then be staged.
Other diagnostic tests for leukemia can help further pinpoint the extent of the disease, such as:
- A lumbar puncture can determine if the cancer has spread to the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which flows around the brain and spinal cord.
- Flow cytometry can detect the type of cancer cells by analyzing the presence or absence of certain antigens on the cell’s surface.
- Cytogenetic analysis can help identify the genes that were affected by identifying chromosome alterations.
- Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) can find genetic abnormalities in a patient’s cells to determine the right treatment path.
Moffitt Cancer Center’s approach to leukemia diagnosis
The leukemia team within the Malignant Hematology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center includes pathologists, hematologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and supportive care providers. These specialists work together to offer the most advanced diagnostic services and treatment options to our leukemia patients. As the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center based in Florida, Moffitt is a leader in leukemia research, including finding innovative treatments for our patients through groundbreaking clinical trials.