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Blood Cancer Tests 

Blood cancers occur when cells in the bone marrow and blood form in ways that aren't normal. These changed cells don't function as they should.

Types of blood cancers include:

Experts at the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center diagnose and treat all blood cancers.

Call the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers at 412-864-6600.

Diagnosing Blood Cancers

Diagnosing blood cancers can be complex because each type is unique.

Your doctor will use certain tests to learn:

  • Which cells are developing or functioning in ways that aren't normal.
  • Whether you have any changes in certain genes.
  • Whether cancer has spread to other places in your body.

Your doctor will talk with you about your medical history and any family history of cancer.

You'll also have a physical exam, where your doctor may:

  • Inspect your skin for changes such as bleeding, bruising, or swelling.
  • Touch certain parts of your body to see if there are lumps, nodules, or spots that are painful.
UPMC experts use blood and other lab tests to diagnose blood cancers. They also use these tests to see if your blood cancer has spread to other parts of your body.

A pathologist looks at a sample of your blood under a microscope to see if there are any abnormalities in the cells.

Tests may include:

Complete blood count (CBC): A test of thhe levels and shapes of different cells in your blood, including:

  • Red blood cells: Cells that move oxygen from your lungs throughout your body.
  • White blood cells: A group of infection-fighting cells (leukocytes) in your blood.
  • Platelets: Cells that cause your blot to clot.
  • Hemoglobin: The oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells.
  • Hematocrit: A measurement of the number of red blood cells in your blood.

Complete blood count (CBC) with differential: A test to learn how many of each white blood cell type you have. Too many (or too little) of any of these cells may be a sign of blood cancer.

Coagulation test: A test to see your blood's ability to clot as it should.

Flow cytometry: A test that looks for substances called proteins, or markers, in blood or tissue samples. These markers give doctors information about cell types and changes to cells.

Peripheral blood smear: A test to see how many blood cells you have and their appearance. Pathologists use a microscope to examine a drop of blood smeared on a slide.

During biopsy, doctors take a sample of bone, fluid, or soft tissue. They send the sample to the lab for review under a microscope to look for cancer cells. Your doctor may recommend a biopsy to diagnose certain blood cancers.

Blood cancer biopsy types include:

  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy: Doctors use a thin needle to remove a little fluid or tissue to examine.
  • Core needle biopsy: Experts use a large needle to gather larger tissue samples.
  • Lymph node biopsy: Doctors remove all or part of a lymph node to look for signs of cancer.

Bone marrow is a type of tissue in the center of your bones that contains cells. As they mature, bone marrow cells can become red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets.

There are two types of bone marrow tests:

  • Bone marrow aspiration: Doctors use a thin needle to remove a sample of liquid bone marrow from the center of a bone.
  • Bone marrow biopsy: Doctors use a large needle to take a sample of bone and marrow.

Pathologists may test tissue, fluid, and blood samples for changes in certain chromosomes.

Finding chromosome changes in cancer cells can help doctors:

Talk with your doctors about the blood cancer tests they suggest for you.

Questions you may want to ask are:

  • How should I prepare for this test?
  • What will the test feel like and are there any risks?
  • When will I get my test results?
  • What will the test results mean?
  • What are the next steps once I receive my test results?

Are There Routine Blood Cancer Screenings?

Doctors don't recommend routine screenings for people who don't have blood cancer symptoms.

See your PCP for routine check-ups and let them know about any changes in your health. If you have a family history of blood cancers, ask your doctor if you should have certain blood tests.

You should also let your doctor know if you have a history of:

  • Taking chemotherapy drugs.
  • Family members with inherited genetic syndromes or Down syndrome.
  • Radiation treatment for cancer or radiation exposure in the workplace.
  • Smoking.

Your doctor will consider your age, health history, and family history to decide if certain blood cancer tests are right for you.

When to See Your Doctor

Early detection is important in treating blood cancers.

Let your doctor know right away if you have any blood cancer symptoms such as:

  • Feeling tired or weak.
  • Fever or chills.
  • Sweating at night.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Contact Us About Blood Cancer Tests

We offer advanced treatments for all blood cancers and resources to support you and those you love.

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center has more than 200 cancer experts and 70 locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and western New York. And as one of the largest community cancer networks in the U.S., we're right in your backyard.

Find a UPMC Hillman Cancer Center doctor or location near you.