Lab and Imaging Tests
Doctors have an arsenal of important diagnostic tools to help them treat and manage blood cancer. Blood tests, bone marrow tests and imaging tests are important tools that help doctors diagnose, treat and manage blood cancers. Your doctor considers these test results along with information from your physical examination and detailed medical history to:
- confirm a blood cancer diagnosis, its specific subtype and its stage
- decide whether additional tests are needed
- determine your risk and expected outcome (prognosis)
- guide treatment decisions
- monitor your condition if treatment isn't yet needed ("watch and wait")
- measure your response to treatment during and after therapy
- track your health during and after treatment
The tests most commonly used to diagnose and monitor blood cancers include:
Your doctor may order additional tests if you have multiple medical conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes or other illnesses (called comorbidities) that may affect your body's ability to fight infection.
Tests may be performed in your doctor's office, at an outpatient clinic, at a lab or in the hospital.
Preparing for Tests
It's common to feel some stress or anxiety about having a test or getting test results. Discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor and ask questions so you understand why a specific test is being ordered and what to expect. You may have concerns or questions about:
- the test's safety
- your comfort during and after the test
- whether you need to do anything beforehand to prepare for the test, such as fasting for a specified number of hours
- whether you'll need someone to take you home after the test
- the time it will take to get your test results
- whether you need to call for the results or if your doctor's office will call you
- when you'll be able to discuss the test results with your doctor
Many people are uncomfortable about having their blood drawn, getting injections (shots) or being in an enclosed space (required for some imaging tests). Talk with your doctor about your concerns or mention them to the staff when you schedule your appointment.
Parents often have to calm their child's fears about tests. For guidance, see Helping Your Child Cope.
Questions to Ask
Asking questions can help you understand why a certain test is needed and help you take an active role in your care. Ask your doctor to explain in another way if you don't understand his or her answers. Bring your questions to your next healthcare appointment or have them at hand if you're speaking to your doctor by phone.
Who's Who on Your Healthcare Team
A number of healthcare professionals are involved with ordering and interpreting your tests and explaining the results. Healthcare providers who play a role in your care may include:
- radiologists - doctors trained to read imaging studies such as a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- radiology or lab technicians - healthcare professionals who withdraw blood or take images of your body
- pathologists - doctors who identify diseases by studying cells and tissues using microscopes
- hematopathologists - doctor-pathologists who are board-certified in both anatomical and clinical pathology and who examine your blood, bone marrow and tissue samples
- hematologist-oncologists - doctors specially trained to diagnose and treat patients with blood cancers
- nurse practitioners - nurses who have advanced training in diagnosing and treating illness
- oncologists - doctors who treat patients with cancer
- oncology nurses - nurses who specialize in treating people who have cancer
- general surgeons - doctors who perform surgical procedures such as splenectomies, lymph node biopsies and other tissue biopsies
- gastroenterologists - doctors who specialize in digestive tract diseases
- nephrologists - doctors who specialize in treating patients with kidney diseases
Radiation oncologists, social workers, psychologists and nutritionists may also be part of your healthcare team, depending on your needs.