Understanding Your Blood Test Results

One of the important components of your Medical Record Notebook is the laboratory reports about your blood or serum tests.

It is vital that you obtain copies of all the results of any blood tests and that you put them into your Medical Record Notebook.  Make sure you include all past tests as well as all future ones.

When you get the copies of blood tests, like all other medical tests, they need to be carefully read and understood by you so that you hear what they are telling you.  If you are unsure, ask your doctor or your nurse.  You could also, carefully ask Doctor Google, but make sure that you are on a responsible, trusted site.

You are entitled to receive all copies of all your blood tests if you ask. They should be given to you as they are your property.  Don’t let anyone tell you that they cannot be given to you, be insistent if you find any resistance in giving you copies of the tests.

When you get the report look at and be aware of any aspects of the report that show any results that are out of the designated normal range but do not get concerned about results that are minimally outside the stated normal range.  However, always ask your clinicians when ever you are concerned, even if the concern is about a minimally abnormal result. 

Pay particular attention to any trends that might appear over time including trends in the biomarkers that are relevant to your particular cancer.  For example, for men with prostate cancer, the biomarkers would include your PSA and ALP scores, for people with liver cancer it would include Alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP) and CEA for people with Colorectal Cancer, Pancreatic and breast cancers.  If you don’t know ask your medical team what biomarkers should be monitored.

Trends will inform you about the progression, or the lack of progression of your cancer and your treatments.  These biomarker trends are important and should be taken into consideration when you make your treatment decisions.

If you do find that there is any extraordinary change in a blood test result, don’t panic.   Errors do happen, unfortunately, more often than we would like to believe. 

In an article in the New York Times written on June 28, 2017, Gina Kolata, reported just how often there are mix-ups of samples sent to laboratories. In the situations she reported about, the correct results were delivered, but to the wrong doctor or to the wrong patient with the wrong patient name attached to the report.

In this study, she cited an analysis that consisted of 6,733 blood samples, 31 (0.46%) were switched and reported incorrectly to the patients.  This study only looked at reporting errors; it did not evaluate lab errors, which would make the incidence of incorrect data reported even higher.

If you find that you receive a strange or inconsistent blood test result the first thing you should do is take a deep breath, speak with your medical team and have the test repeated.

The bottom line is that all lab tests just like pathology reports should be read carefully, skeptically and then if they seem odd, they should be re-confirmed.

Make sure that you read our section about your pathology reports, errors or misinterpretations made and the need to have a second opinion on the pathology itself.