Health A-Z

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If your doctor suspects leukemia, he or she will do a physical exam to check for signs of disease. He or she will ask about your medical history. This might include your health habits and past illnesses and treatment.

You will then undergo various tests and procedures to confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include:

  • Blood tests Several tests may be done using blood drawn from a vein in your arm. Your blood will be analyzed to count the numbers of different blood cells. Changes in your blood chemistry and in the appearance of your blood cells will be analyzed as well.

  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy A small sample of bone and liquid bone marrow will be taken from your hipbone or breastbone with a long needle. A specially trained doctor will examine the sample to look for abnormalities in the cells.

If the diagnosis is leukemia, you may be referred to a hematologist/oncologist. This is a doctor who specializes in cancers of the blood and bone marrow.

There are several subtypes of AML. The different AML subtypes have somewhat different symptoms, treatment approaches, and outlooks. You are likely to undergo additional tests to determine your subtype of AML.

These tests may include:

  • Cytogenetic studies to look for certain changes in cells' genetic material.

  • Immunophenotyping, a process that identifies leukemia cells based on specific substances on the cells' surface.

You may also need to undergo additional tests and procedures to determine whether the AML has spread to other parts of the body. These tests are likely to include:

  • Imaging tests, such as a chest X-ray, CT scan or ultrasound

  • Lumbar puncture/spinal tap, which uses a needle to collect fluid from the spinal column.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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