How is leukemia diagnosed?

Because chronic leukemia shows no obvious symptoms in the early stages, the disease may be diagnosed during a regular physical examination or as a result of routine blood tests. If a patient has enlarged lymph nodes, swollen gums, an enlarged liver or spleen, significant bruising or a small pinpoint rash, the doctor may suspect leukemia. Many patients initially just feel overall severe fatigue or flu-like symptoms which linger and do not improve.

To diagnose leukemia, the doctor must examine cells from the blood and, in most cases, the bone marrow. An initial blood test (complete blood count [CBC]) showing an abnormal white cell count may indicate the need for a bone marrow biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and to identify the specific type of leukemia. During this procedure, the doctor removes a sample of bone marrow tissue (biopsy) from a pelvic bone and tests the sample for cancer cells. The cells also are examined for chromosomal abnormalities. This is called a cytogenetics analysis (cyto=cell).

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