Tests for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

If you have signs and symptoms that suggest you might have leukemia, the doctor will want to get a thorough medical history, including how long you have had symptoms and if you have possibly been exposed to anything considered a risk factor.During the physical exam, the doctor will probably focus on any enlarged lymph nodes, areas of bleeding or bruising, or possible signs of infection. The eyes, mouth, and skin will be looked at carefully, and a thorough nervous system exam may be done. Your abdomen will be felt for spleen or liver enlargement.If there is reason to think low levels of blood cells might be causing your symptoms (anemia, infections, bleeding or bruising, etc.), the doctor will most likely order blood tests to check your blood cell counts. You might also be referred to a hematologist, a doctor who specializes in diseases of the blood (including leukemia).

Tests used to diagnose and classify ALL If your doctor thinks you might have leukemia, he or she will need to check samples of cells from your blood and bone marrow to be sure. Other tissue and cell samples may also be taken to help guide treatment.Blood tests Blood samples for ALL tests are generally taken from a vein in the arm.

Complete blood count (CBC) and peripheral blood smearThe CBC measures the numbers of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. This test is often done along with a differential (or diff) which looks at the numbers of the different types of white blood cells. These tests are often the first ones done on patients with a suspected blood problem.For the peripheral blood smear (sometimes just called a smear), a drop of blood is smeared across a slide and then looked at under a microscope to see how the cells look. Changes in the numbers and the appearance of the cells often help diagnose leukemia.Most patients with ALL have too many immature white cells called lymphoblasts (or just blasts) in their blood, and not enough red blood cells or platelets.Lymphoblasts are not normally found in the blood, and they don't function like normal, mature white blood cells.Even though these findings may suggest leukemia, the disease usually is not diagnosed without looking at a sample of bone marrow cells.Blood chemistry tests: Blood chemistry tests measure the amounts of certain chemicals in the blood, but they are not used to diagnose leukemia. In patients already known to have ALL, these tests can help detect liver or kidney problems caused by spreading leukemia cells or the side effects of certain chemotherapy drugs. These tests also help determine if treatment is needed to correct low or high blood levels of certain minerals.Coagulation tests: Blood coagulation tests may be done to make sure the blood is clotting properly.