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Acute myeloid leukaemia tests

Men and women discussing acute myeloid leukaemia

This page tells you what happens when you go to your doctor with symptoms that could be due to acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Acute myeloid leukaemia tests

If you have worrying symptoms, you usually begin by seeing your family doctor. Your GP will ask about your general health and symptoms. They then examine you by feeling for swollen organs or glands, and looking for signs of abnormal bleeding. They also ask you to have a blood test.

At the hospital

If your GP thinks that you may have leukaemia, they will suggest you go and see a specialist doctor called a haematologist. Haematologists treat diseases of the blood. Your haematologist will ask you to have some tests.

Blood tests are the most important tests for acute leukaemia. A haematologist looks at your blood sample under a microscope to count the different blood cells. You may have X-rays to check your general health.

Bone marrow test

Your specialist may want to check a sample of your bone marrow for signs of leukaemia or other illnesses. In a bone marrow aspiration, the doctor puts a thin needle into the centre of one of your bones. They then draw out some of the liquid bone marrow. 

You have a local anaesthetic injection first to numb the area. In a bone marrow biopsy, the doctor uses a slightly larger needle to remove a small amount of bone and marrow together. You usually have an aspiration and biopsy at the same time.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the diagnosing AML section.

 

 

Going to your GP

If you have worrying symptoms, you usually begin by seeing your family doctor. Your GP examines you and asks about your general health and symptoms. This includes

  • What your symptoms are
  • When you get them
  • Whether anything you do makes them better or worse

Your doctor examines you by

  • Feeling for swollen organs or glands
  • Looking for signs of abnormal bleeding

Your GP also asks you to have a blood test.

 

At the hospital

If your GP thinks that you may have leukaemia, they will suggest you go and see a specialist doctor called a haematologist (pronounced heem-at-oll-oh-jist). Haematologists treat diseases of the blood. Your haematologist will ask you to have some tests. These might include

  • Blood tests
  • Bone marrow tests
  • Chest X-ray
 

Blood tests

Blood tests are the most important tests for acute leukaemia. Your doctor or nurse takes a small amount of blood from a vein in your arm, using a needle and syringe. They send your blood to the laboratory. A haematologist looks at the sample under a microscope to count the different blood cells. They call this a full blood cell count (FBC).

Many people with AML have a low white blood cell count. If your white count is high, it can be due to a large number of early (immature) white blood cells called blasts.

Your doctor may also do other blood tests to see how well your liver and kidneys are working.

 

Bone marrow test

Blood cells grow in your bone marrow. So your specialist may want to check a sample of your bone marrow for signs of leukaemia or other illnesses. There are 2 different types of bone marrow test. 

Bone marrow aspiration

In a bone marrow aspiration, the doctor puts a thin needle into the centre of one of your bones. They then draw out some of the liquid bone marrow. Usually, the doctor takes the sample from one of your hip bones. You have a local anaesthetic injection first.

Bone marrow biopsy or trephine biopsy

In a bone marrow biopsy, the doctor uses a slightly larger needle to remove a small amount of bone and marrow together. You usually have an aspiration and biopsy at the same time.

As well as looking at the bone marrow cells, the haematologist tests for abnormalities in your chromosomes. These tests are called cytogenetics (pronounced sigh-toe gen-et-ics). The haematologist also does tests for particular proteins made by some types of leukaemia cells. This is called immunophenotyping (pronounced imm-you-no-fee-no-typing).

 

Chest X-ray

You may have X-rays to check your general health.

 

For more information

Find out about

AML symptoms

Blood tests

Bone marrow

Cancer tests

For general information and support

Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday)

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Updated: 11 February 2014