How We Diagnose Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Since AML is a rare blood cancer, we believe that there is value in being treated in a center that specializes in caring for leukemia patients, and that initial therapy choices matter. At the Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center Adult Leukemia Program, our clinicians and pathologists have a tremendous amount of expertise in this area. Our experienced hematopathologists (pathologists who specialize in blood disorders) apply highly specialized tests, including pathology, flow cytometry, and molecular profiling techniques to fully characterize your disease.

This is important, since even within the same diagnosis, the specific mutation "profile" of a cancer can predict very different outcomes. We integrate all of the findings to make an accurate diagnosis and determine the optimal treatment plan.

Initial Diagnosis

A complete blood count is usually the first clue about a potential diagnosis of AML. Patients with suspected AML will undergo a bone marrow biopsy and aspirate to evaluate the bone marrow. This procedure is done in an office or hospital room, and involves using a local anesthetic to numb the posterior iliac crest (back of the hip). A needle is then used to obtain a liquid sample and a core biopsy sample of the marrow. This test allows the physician to most accurately diagnose AML.

Other tests include:

Cytogenetic and Molecular Genetics Testing

In this laboratory test, the cells in a sample of blood or bone marrow are examined to look for certain changes in the chromosomes.

We have unique expertise in interpreting molecular (genomic) tests and translating that data into an action plan.

  • Our patients have access to a Rapid Heme Panel — a next-generation sequencing test to identify mutations or DNA alterations in 95 genes that are frequently mutated in blood cancers. This test was developed at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center and provides results in a matter of days, which helps inform treatment decisions.
  • With OncoPanel, our scientists are creating one of the world's largest databases on the genetic abnormalities that drive the development of tumors. Tens of thousands of patients have consented to have their tumor tissue analyzed for mutations and other cancer-related DNA abnormalities.

Abnormalities found in the blood and bone marrow biopsy, as well as factors from the cytogenetic analysis and molecular genetic findings, help determine prognosis and whether you would benefit from certain therapies.

Second Opinions

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Consultations and Second Opinions

  • Because adult acute myeloid leukemia is a quickly progressing blood cancer, there is great value in patients with suspected or diagnosed AML consulting with our team, which has deep experience in treating patients with this disease.
  • We routinely evaluate specimens sent to us from outside centers. These specimens are evaluated by our entire team, including our hematopathologists.

Reasons to consider a consultation or second opinion include:

  • To confirm your diagnosis.
  • If you have received a diagnosis elsewhere and want to be treated at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center.
  • To determine the optimal therapy and timing of treatment.
  • To learn more about your cancer from specialists who are world leaders in this disease, and who have treated hundreds of other patients like you.
  • To learn if you're eligible for a clinical trial based on your disease features and treatment history.

Phone: 617-632-6028 or 617-632-5138
Online: Complete the Appointment Request Form

If you cannot travel to Boston in person, you can take advantage of our Online Second Opinion service; however, access to clinical trial opportunities may require travel to Boston.

For Referring Physicians

Because you, the referring physician, are an integral part of your patient's care team, we are committed to collaborating with you to provide the best care for your patient.

If you are a physician and have a patient with diagnosed or suspected AML, we look forward to working with you. Learn how to refer a patient.