Diagnostic tools used to detect leukemia

Selina M. Luger, MD
Last Modified: December 30, 2001

Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

What diagnostic tools could have been used to detect leukemia?


Answer

Selina M. Luger, MD, Director of the Leukemia Program and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

We usually investigate a patient for leukemia when there is an abnormality in the numbers or subtypes of blood counts. In order to evaluate these abnormalities, we can look at the blood cells under the microscope and if necessary do a bone marrow test. The bone marrow is essentially the manufacturing plant of blood cells; so we can look at see if the cells are being made properly or not. In the case of acute leukemia's, we see a high percentage of immature cells or blasts in the bone marrow. In the case of chronic leukemia's, we see too many mature cells. We can do special test on the bone marrow cells that tell us more about these cells.

Sometimes leukemia can also have different manifestations, because the leukemia cells can sometimes involve other places like the skin. Sometimes test on these cells will tell us there is an abnormal type of blood cell present and then we would do a bone marrow test again to see if we can find leukemia.


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