A doctor drawing blood from a patient for a blood test. A simple blood test is a very effective way to diagnose leukemia.
A doctor drawing blood from a patient for a blood test. A simple blood test is a very effective way to diagnose leukemia.


All the analysis needed to diagnose leukemia can be provided by a quick checkup with your family or area doctor. If an abnormality in the routine tests is discovered, it will be analyzed and monitored to check for developments and monitor any changes.
Diagnosis of leukemia usually begins with a normal blood test conducted by your doctor. Analysis of a blood sample by an oncologist may reveal cellular irregularities, such as large numbers of warped and/or distorted red and white blood cells. The patient is then typically called for a follow-up test.
During a physical exam, the doctor will also check for swollen lymph nodes and/or a swollen spleen. If these organs are swollen, it indicates that cancerous lymphocytes may have already begun to accumulate in the lymphatic system, spleen, and liver. This is a sign that leukemia may be present at an advanced stage.


Diagram showing the standard procedure for a bone marrow aspiration, also known as a biopsy
Diagram showing the standard procedure for a bone marrow aspiration, also known as a biopsy

During a follow-up exam, a piece of tissue may be removed from the bone marrow in your hip bone, and sent to a lab for further test. This is called a biopsy. A pathologist at a lab will analyze the tissue sample to detect any abnormal growths, which could signal the presence of a bone marrow tumor. The content of the bone marrow (cells, fluid) will then be filtered out and examined, to ananlyze the number and the nature of the cells present. In addition, more blood will be drawn, in order to perform a complete blood count (CBC) and run more tests.

A data log showing the results of a typical complete blood count. The type of cell is listed in the left column, while the number of cells in the sample is listed in the right column.
A data log showing the results of a typical complete blood count. The type of cell is listed in the left column, while the number of cells in the sample is listed in the right column.

A CBC is used to count the exact number and proportions of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in the blood. An overabundance of white blood cells is a major sign of leukemia, as it indicates that lymphocytes are multiplying out of control in the bone marrow.
A diagnostic exam for leukemia also often includes a spinal tap. This allows lymph to be collected and analyzed, to determine the number and nature of the lymphocytes present. A lymph test is much more accurate and informative than a blood test, because lymph contains a much higher concentration of white blood cells than the blood. This allows a doctor to minutely examine the white blood cells in your blood sample, and check for cancer or any irregularities.