Leukemia (Blood Cancer) - Diagnosis & Treatment

How is leukemia diagnosed?

If you experience signs or symptoms that suggest leukemia, your doctor may carry out the following:

  • Physical examination – Your doctor will conduct a physical exam to check for swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the neck or under the armpits. Your gums will also be checked for any swelling or bleeding. Your doctor will check your body for bruises, tiny red skin rash, and signs of an enlarged spleen.
  • Blood tests – These will determine unusual levels of red or white blood cells or platelets. Lower than normal counts of red blood cells and platelets and higher than normal count of white blood cells are signs of leukemia. The blood test can also detect leukemia cells.
  • Bone marrow test – If your white blood cell count is not normal, your doctor will ask you to go for a bone marrow test. In this test, a sample of bone marrow from your hipbone will be removed.
  • Cytogenetic and molecular tests – This test is used to help characterise the leukemia type and determine the best course of treatment. The test searches for chromosomal variations or abnormalities in the cells.

How is leukemia treated?

Treatment options are dependent on the person's age and health, the type of leukemia a person has, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body including the central nervous system.

Your doctor may recommend treatment options that involve:

Bone marrow transplant

Also known as stem cell transplant, bone marrow transplant is a procedure that replaces the damaged bone marrow by infusing healthy blood-forming stem cells into the body. Bone marrow transplant can use either cells from your own body or cells from a donor. Its goal is to manage or cure the disease, extend life, and improve quality of life.

Biological therapy

Biological therapy or immunotherapy fights leukemia by using drugs to boost your immune system. There are various types of immunotherapy for leukemia, including allogeneic bone marrow transplant, therapeutic cancer vaccines, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, monoclonal antibody therapies, and donor lymphocyte infusions.


In chemotherapy, strong medicines are used to destroy cancerous cells and prevent them from reproducing. Chemotherapy as leukemia treatment usually involves several drugs given together in a therapy regimen. The drugs can be given either orally or intravenously.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy makes use of high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells. The procedure, which takes only a few minutes, is similar to having an X-ray. It is painless, but the radiation is much stronger.

Targeted therapy

In targeted therapy, drugs are used to target the genes and proteins that contribute to the growth and survival of cancer cells. The drugs can be given to you orally through pills or capsules or intravenously.

This page has been reviewed by our medical content reviewers.

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