Imaging Studies to Diagnose Leukemia

Imaging studies may be used to determine if leukemia has invaded other organs within the body.

Imaging tests include the following:

  • X-rays (to detect enlarged lymph nodes in the chest, a localized mass in the lungs, or evidence of spread to the outer bones or joints)
  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan is a computer-assisted x-ray that produces cross-sectional images of the body. CT scans are not often used in leukemia patients unless the physician suspects that the disease has spread. In such cases, CT scans can help detect changes in the lymph nodes around the heart, windpipe (trachea), or abdomen. Lymph node enlargement is more common in patients with acute or chronic lymphocytic leukemia (ALL, CLL).
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is a procedure that uses electromagnets and radio waves to create computer-generated pictures of the internal organs. MRI may be used if the physician suspects that leukemia involves the brain or lungs.
  • Radionuclide (radioactive atom) scanning may be performed to rule out nonleukemic disorders in patients who complain of bone pain. In this test, the radiologist injects a radioactive chemical (e.g., gallium-67), which will accumulate in areas of infection or malignancy and can be viewed with a special camera. This procedure is not used for patients who already have been diagnosed with leukemia.
  • Ultrasound is an imaging test based on the principle that solids reflect sound waves in a manner that can be converted into a picture. During ultrasound, a transducer "probe" releases high-frequency sound waves that bounce off the internal organs, are collected, and are transmitted onto a video screen to create a picture called a sonogram. Ultrasound may be conducted to check the kidneys for leukemia-related damage.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 14 Aug 1999

Last Modified: 24 Sep 2015