Diagnosis

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When your child is diagnosed with cancer, it can feel overwhelming. This phase involves finding out if your child has cancer and determining the type of cancer they have. Children’s cancer can be difficult to diagnose, as many symptoms are similar to those caused by less serious conditions, or injuries. This means that your child may need several tests and medical appointments before you receive confirmation that your child has cancer.

If your doctor thinks your child has leukaemia, your child will undergo several tests, including:

  • medical history and physical exam
  • blood tests
  • lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
  • bone marrow aspiration and biopsy
  • medical imaging, such as
    • chest X-ray
    • ultrasound
    • bone scan
    • computed tomography (CT) scan
    • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • positron emission tomography (PET) scan.

You can find more details about these tests on our page How is cancer diagnosed?.

Staging

Doctors use staging to describe how much the cancer has grown. Your doctor will use this information to determine which treatments to use. Staging also gives doctors an idea of how well these treatments are likely to work (prognosis).

Leukaemia staging is different to that for other types of cancer. Leukaemia starts in the bone marrow and spreads to the blood quickly. This means that it spreads to the rest of the body quickly as well.

Leukaemia staging includes information such as:

  • whether the leukaemia cells have built up in certain organs or areas of the body, such as the
    • liver
    • spleen
    • lymph nodes
    • central nervous system
  • the types of cells that are involved in the leukaemia.

Your doctor will also consider whether the leukaemia is new, or whether it has been treated before but has come back (relapsed).