Leukemia - Diagnosis

The first step in diagnosing leukemia occurs when a patient sees a doctor for one or more of the described symptoms. The doctor must then try to find the cause of these symptoms. The doctor first performs tests to rule out other medical conditions.

The first specific test for leukemia is likely to be a blood test. A blood test shows the relative amounts of red and white blood cells. An unusually large number of white blood cells might suggest the possibility of leukemia.

A more specific test is a bone marrow biopsy. A bone marrow biopsy is conducted with a long, thin needle that is inserted into the marrow of a bone. A bone in the hip or chest is usually chosen for this procedure. A sample of

the bone marrow is removed and studied under a microscope. The presence of abnormal blood cells is the basis for diagnosing leukemia.

If there is still doubt, an additional test may be performed. This test is a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). In a lumbar puncture, a thin needle is inserted into the space between vertebrae in the patient's spine. A sample of cerebrospinal fluid is withdrawn. Cerebrospinal fluid is a liquid that surrounds the tissues in the brain and spine. The presence of abnormal blood cells indicates that the patient has leukemia.

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