How We Diagnose Leukemia in Children

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In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, leukemia diagnostic procedures may include:

  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy — marrow may be removed by aspiration or a needle biopsy under local anesthesia. In aspiration biopsy, a fluid specimen is removed from the bone marrow. In a needle biopsy, marrow cells (not fluid) are removed. These methods are often used together. Most often samples are obtained from the bones of the pelvis (upper buttocks).
  • Complete blood count (CBC) — a measurement of size, number, and maturity of different blood cells in a specific volume of blood.
  • Additional blood tests — may include blood chemistries, evaluation of liver and kidney functions, and genetic studies.
  • Computerized tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan)— a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
  • X-ray — a diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • Ultrasound — a diagnostic imaging technique that uses high frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as they function, and to assess blood flow through various vessels.
  • Lymph node biopsy — removal of lymph node tissue for examination under a microscope.
  • Spinal tap/lumbar puncture — a special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the area around the spinal cord. The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be measured. A small amount of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes your child's brain and spinal cord.