Because 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 you have enlarged lymph nodes, swollen gums, an enlarged liver or spleen, significant bruising or a small pinpoint rash, your doctor may suspect leukemia. Many patients initially just feel overall severe fatigue or flu-like symptoms which linger and do not improve.
If you have signs or symptoms that suggest leukemia, your doctor may perform the following diagnostic exams:
- Physical exam: Your doctor will look for physical signs of leukemia, such as pale skin from anemia and swelling of your lymph nodes, liver and spleen.
- Blood tests: Blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) can help your doctor determine if you have abnormal levels of white blood cells or platelets – which may suggest leukemia.
- Bone marrow test: Bone marrow test: During this test, a sample of bone marrow from your hipbone is removed using a long, thin needle. The sample is sent to a laboratory to look for leukemia cells.
- Lumbar puncture/spinal tap: Under an anesthetic, a small amount of spinal fluid is removed from the spaces between the vertebrae in the spine. The fluid is then examined by a pathologist.
Other procedures including CT scans, X-rays, MRI's and ultrasounds may also be used to diagnose leukemia.