If you have symptoms that suggest liver cancer, your physician may conduct one or more of the following tests:
- Physical Exam Your doctor feels your abdomen to check the liver, spleen, and other nearby organs for any lumps or changes in their shape or size. Your doctor also checks for ascites, an abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen. Also, your skin and eyes may be checked for signs of jaundice.
- Blood Tests Many blood tests may be used to check for liver problems. One blood test detects alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). High AFP levels could be a sign of liver cancer. Other blood tests can show how well the liver is working.
- Computed Tomography (CT) Scan An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of your liver and other organs and blood vessels in your abdomen. You may receive an injection of contrast material so that your liver shows up clearly in the pictures. On the CT scan, your doctor may see tumors in the liver or elsewhere in the abdomen.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan A large machine with a strong magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of areas inside your body. Sometimes contrast material makes abnormal areas show up more clearly on the picture.
- Ultrasound Test The ultrasound device uses sound waves that can't be heard by humans. The sound waves produce a pattern of echoes as they bounce off internal organs. The echoes create a picture (sonogram) of your liver and other organs in the abdomen. Tumors may produce echoes that are different from the echoes made by healthy tissues.
A biopsy usually is not needed to diagnose liver cancer, but in some cases, the doctor may remove a sample of tissue. A pathologist uses a microscope to look for cancer cells in the tissue.