In most cases, CLL is detected during blood tests carried out for some other reason. It is advised to visit a doctor if the symptoms persist over time.
If the doctor thinks that someone has CLL, he/ she would ask the person to refer to a doctor who is a specialist in blood disorders, called a Haematologist for further tests. These tests include:
A Blood Test called a Full Blood Count:
This is where the number and appearance of the different blood cells in a sample of the blood are checked in a lab. An abnormally high number of unusual white blood cells (Lymphocytes) can be a sign of CLL. A further detailed examination of these cells can confirm the diagnosis.
X-Rays and Scans:
Chest X-Ray, Ultrasound Scan of the tummy or a CT (Computerised Tomography) Scan to check for problems caused by CLL, such as swollen glands or a swollen spleen. These can help rule out other possible causes of the symptoms.
Bone Marrow Exam:
A Bone Marrow Exam is the ONLY definite way for a Haematologist to detect or determine uncommon conditions such as various types of blood cancers. The exam comprises two different procedures – a Bone Marrow Aspiration and a Bone Marrow Biopsy. (For more information, read Bone Marrow Aspiration and Biopsy)
This is a specialised test performed on the peripheral blood sample or the sample collected from the bone marrow which confirms the diagnosis of CLL and distinguishes it from other similar looking disorders of lymphocytes. It also helps in determining the prognosis along with the genetic tests.
Lymph Node Biopsy:
In some cases, removing and examining a swollen lymph gland can help confirm a diagnosis of CLL.
The Haematologist might also check for unusual genes in the cancerous cells – identifying these unusual genes can help the Haematologist decide how soon the treatment should start and which treatment would work best.