At Memorial Sloan Kettering, we use the latest techniques and state-of-the-art equipment to identify even the most uncommon forms of lymphoma. Before you start any treatment, we’ll want to be sure that we have a clear and complete understanding of what exactly is making you sick. To do this, we will probably need to run some tests or take a sample, or biopsy, of the diseased tissue. You may also need blood analyses and imaging studies.

It can be challenging to diagnose lymphoma because the tumors often resemble a normal immune system response to infections or other illnesses, explains Memorial Sloan Kettering pathologist Ahmet Dogan. Doctors examine a tissue sample, called a biopsy, under a microscope to look for abnormal appearance in lymphocytes. Additional tests are used to examine the genetic characteristics of the lymphocytes, which may help to identify the subtype and optimal treatment approach.

With this information we’ll then assign a stage to your illness, which essentially tells us how advanced and aggressive it is — and how aggressive your treatment needs to be.