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How Acute Myeloid Leukemia Is Diagnosed

How Acute Myeloid Leukemia Is Diagnosed

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a disease characterized by the production of abnormal white blood cells. These abnormal cells accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal white blood cells, causing anemia and interfering with the ability to fight infection. It can also cause abnormal bleeding, joint pain and abdominal swelling. There are several laboratory studies that confirm a diagnosis of AML.

Blood tests

One of the most common blood tests used to diagnose AML is the complete blood count (CBC). This test measures red and white blood cells and platelets. The CBC is done along with a peripheral blood smear, which collects blood cells for microscopic examination. Any change in the number or appearance of blood cells may signal leukemia. In patients with AML, the white blood cells look immature under a microscope, and the number of red blood cells and platelets is low.

Bone marrow biopsy

The CBC and peripheral blood smear only suggest leukemia. A definitive diagnosis is made through a bone marrow biopsy. This test takes a sample of bone marrow, usually from the patient's hip, for a microscopic examination. Like the blood tests, the pathologist is looking for abnormalities in the size, shape and number of blood cells. The key trait in diagnosing AML is the maturity of the white blood cells. Cells that are immature are called myeloblasts or "blasts". The ratio of these blasts to normal blood cells is the determining factor in a leukemia diagnosis. For a diagnosis of AML, a patient's bone marrow sample needs to have 20 percent blasts.

After a diagnosis is reached, AML typically requires a prolonged treatment regimen. It is, however, a curable disease for a large number of patients. It is also extremely rare. Anyone who experiences symptoms of AML should see a physician for simple tests to diagnose the illness.

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