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How is leukaemia diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of leukaemia , or if you have a test for another reason and it suggests leukaemia, your general practitioner (GP) will do a physical examination, organise further tests and may refer you to a specialist called a haematologist.

Blood tests

Your doctor will take a blood sample to see how well your blood, kidneys and liver are working, and to check your general health.

Bone marrow biopsy

Blood cells develop in your bone marrow, so your doctor will want to check a sample of your bone marrow for signs of leukaemia. During the biopsy, the doctor uses a thin needle to remove a small amount of bone marrow, usually from your hipbone (pelvic bone). You will be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area, pain relief or light sedation to help you feel relaxed.

The bone marrow sample (biopsy) is sent to a laboratory, and a specialist called a pathologist will view the sample under a microscope to work out the subtype of  leukaemia. Doctors use this information to suggest the most suitable treatment.

Imaging tests

You may have one or more of the following to find out more about the leukaemia and to check your general health:

  • chest x-ray
  • CT (computerised tomography) scan
  • PET (positron emission tomography)-CT scan
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

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This information is reviewed by

This information was written and last reviewed in September 2020 by Cancer Council SA's experienced information team with support from national Cancer Council publications.