Ask the Expert: Understanding Lab Tests and Lab Test Results

When diagnosed with a serious health condition, making sense of your blood work can be vital to gaining a better understanding of your disease. What do my lab tests mean? Are these changes meaningful?  In this important "Ask the Expert" series, Dr. Susan Leclair, a laboratory scientist and professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth explains how you can improve your relationship with your doctor, communicate more actively, better understand your tests and test results, and hopefully, get better care. If you have questions related to laboratory tests for Dr. Leclair, submit them now to

Can Calcium Values Help Diagnose Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?

Dr. Susan Leclair talks about the role of calcium values and its impact on diagnosing non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma. She explains that calcium values affect cells directly and that cell death and turnover is found primarily in the lymph nodes of patients with Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and not usually in the blood.


Which Patients Qualify for Calreticulin Testing?

Dr. Susan Leclair discusses how physicians recommend calreticulin testing for patients who exhibit blood issues similar to myelofibrosis and thrombocythemia. Both conditions are revealed in the blood, and calreticulin tests should be taken into consideration for optimal diagnosis.


What Blood Tests Are Done to Identify Inflammation in Polycythemia Vera?

Dr. Susan Leclair speaks on the ineffectiveness of existing blood tests in identifying inflammation in polycythemia vera (PV) patients. Blood tests are only able to identify whether or not inflammation exists, but are not yet equipped to answer the holistic questions of why and how inflammation develops. Leclair says it will take another 5-10 years to have a better grasp of inflammation as a disease process.


Myeloma Blood Tests: What Does an Increase in Kappa Light Chain Numbers Mean?

What are kappa chains? In this Patient Power segment, Host Dr. Susan Leclair discusses what kappa chains are and answers what an increase in kappa chain numbers might mean for a patient with myeloma.


When Do White Count Numbers Trigger Treatment in CLL?

Laboratory scientist Susan Leclair helps CLL patients understand the meaning behind platelet action and emphasizes the importance of "treating the whole patient."


Understanding RBC Indices

In her ongoing series, Dr. Leclair discusses mean cell volume. Starting with the history behind the test, she gives depth and meaning to the values and data that your physician uses to develop your specific plan of care


Hematocrit or Hemoglobin: Which One Is Better?

Hemoglobin (HGB) or hematocrit (HCT)? Is one of these CBC tests better than the other? Dr. Susan Leclair explains.


The Significance of White Blood Cells and Your Lab Tests

Why do white cell counts fluctuate? Dr. Susan Leclair explains what some of the white cells are and why they vary in your lab test results.


A Look Inside the Bone Marrow: Understanding Red Blood Cell Index Tests

Blood tests provide physicians with a large concentration of data. Using basic math, Dr. Leclair descriptively illustrates how the various red cell index tests tell the story of what is happening deep inside your bone marrow.


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Your Submitted Questions Answered 

Is there an app to keep track of lab test result highlights?

Do M spike levels impact neutrophil/lymphocyte percentages?

Are blast cells the same as smudge cells?

Elevated WBC - Should I be worried?

My blood test showed my lymphs as high, should I be concerned?

Why is my WBC now lower than when I was first diagnosed with CLL, yet my lymphocyte count is up?

Are elevated ESR and CRP normal after lumbar surgery for a CLL patient?

Is there a way to detect what the dead WBCs have spent their last hours attacking?

Follicular non-Hodgkin lymphoma: What are the key lab tests?

Is there a way to detect what the dead WBCs have spent their last hours attacking?

Is raised protein in urine a concern in CLL?

WBC fluctuation in CLL

Are low lymphocytes on a CBC a concern?

What exactly does a 17p deletion mean?

Is DLBCL for non-Hodgkin lymphoma a different diagnosis than Richter's transformation?

What does it mean when the immunoglobulin free light chains lab results are elevated?

FISH test in CLL: What do trisomy 12 mutation and IgH-V unmutated mean?

Watch and wait: Will changing my diet contribute to better blood test results?

How does thyroid function impact blood tests?

Is the percentage of cells with a genetic mutation relevant?

Lymphocytes and reactive lymphocytes

Are you planning to include info about T-cell LGL?

What is the significance of constant low lymphocytes?

Should I be worried that my WBC count is high?

Does del(13) (q12q22)(2) take a special probe?

When is biopsy/surgery recommended?

Why is my hemoglobin level dropping?

Which therapy is best for an 11q deletion?

Blood cells' reaction to cold agglutinins

Should peripheral blood smears be manually read?

Any suggestions for increasing platelet counts?

Why does an MF patient's spleen enlarge?

Lower than normal lymphocyte counts due to PV

Potential significance of an enhanced level of lambda protein in MGUS

Rigorous long-term exercise and CLL

Monocyte values

Genesis of NK cells and difficulties with blood draws

Is PSA figured as a percent to total blood volume?

Why are levels for MCH, MCHC, MCV and MPV tracked for CLL?

Normal blood results in watch and wait

What is the connection between LDH levels and myelofibrosis?

When is it time to begin CLL treatment?

What does the shape of a cell mean?

Have a question about lab tests or lab test results?

Have a question for Dr. Leclair on lab tests or lab test results? Patient Power is talking to the experts all year-round, and we want to ask the questions most important to you. Submit your brief question for Dr. Leclair here. Please note that we will do our best to ask all appropriate questions, however, we cannot guarantee an answer. Be sure to sign up to receive email alerts so that we can inform you whenever new content is posted.

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Page last updated on June 24, 2019