The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on April 8, 2021.

Diagnosing leukemia

Leukemia has many different types. Some forms of acute leukemia are fast growing, while other chronic forms of the disease may require less aggressive treatments. A thorough and accurate cancer diagnosis is a critical first step in developing a leukemia treatment plan. Our multidisciplinary team of leukemia experts uses a variety of tools and technologies designed for diagnosing leukemia and developing a treatment plan tailored to each patient’s needs. Throughout your treatment, we'll use imaging and laboratory tests to monitor your response to treatment and modify your plan when needed.

Diagnostic tests used for diagnosing leukemia:

Biopsy: A biopsy is used to determine the type of leukemia, the growth rate of the tumor, and whether the disease has spread. Common biopsy procedures for leukemia include:

  • Bone marrow biopsy removes a sample of bone marrow.
  • Lymph node biopsy removes all or part of a lymph node.

Flow cytometry: This test may provide valuable insight into whether the tumor cells contain a normal or abnormal amount of DNA, and the relative rate at which the tumor is growing.

Imaging tests: These procedures may provide information about the extent of leukemia in the body, and the presence of infections or other problems. The following imaging tests may be used to help formulate a leukemia diagnosis:

Lab tests: These tests measure the amount of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in the blood, which are often lower than normal when leukemia has developed.

Lumbar puncture: Also known as a spinal tap, this test may be required to determine the extent of leukemia. Lumbar punctures may also be used to inject medications, such as chemotherapy drugs, to treat the disease.

Next topic: How is leukemia treated?