Diagnosis: Hematology and Oncology
The hematology and oncology specialists at the Comprehensive Cancer Center use a variety of tools to diagnose a wide spectrum of cancers and blood diseases. First, your doctor will perform a physical examination and take your medical history. Then, depending on your symptoms, you may need any of the following additional tests:
Standard blood tests evaluate the cells that make up your blood, including red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. If your doctor determines there is a problem, with your blood or if certain types of cancer are suspected, you may need blood tests that are more advanced. Your doctor will discuss with you what blood tests you need.
Bone Marrow Testing
If you have a blood problem and blood tests do not offer your doctor enough information, your doctor may want to take a sample of your bone marrow for further examination under a microscope. Bone marrow is the special tissue located inside your bones that produces new blood cells. Bone marrow testing can help diagnose conditions like leukemia, which causes the bone marrow to produce unusual white blood cells, or lymphoma, which may spread into the bone marrow.
What to Expect
Generally, your doctor draws bone marrow samples from your hipbone. Your doctor numbs the area with anesthetic and inserts a needle long enough to reach through to your bone marrow. Your doctor can draw a sample for either of the following tests:
- Aspiration – Draws a liquid bone marrow sample into a syringe
- Biopsy – Draws a small sample of bone marrow core into a cylinder-shaped container
Imaging tests help your doctor determine where cancer is located or whether your cancer is spreading into other parts of your body. These tests may include:
- Computed tomography (CT) scan – Uses both X-ray and computer technology to create a detailed picture of the suspicious area.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan – Uses magnetic pulses of energy to create a detailed image
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan – Uses a radioactive substance to pinpoint any suspicious or diseased areas within the body.
In a biopsy, your doctor removes tissue from an affected or suspicious area to examine it under a microscope. This helps your doctor diagnose the type of cancer and determine the most effective course of treatment.
One common biopsy that helps diagnose a variety of cancers, including lymphoma, is called a lymph node biopsy. Lymph nodes are the glands that produce white blood cells. Your doctor may perform 1of 2 types of lymph node biopsies:
- Needle biopsy – Your doctor numbs the affected area and then uses a needle to draw a small sample of lymph node cells.
- Open biopsy – Your doctor puts you under general anesthesia and then surgically removes part of a lymph node or the entire lymph node.
Armed with this kind of detailed information about your condition, your team of doctors can help develop a treatment plan that will be most effective for you.