Diagnosing Liver Cancer

A variety of different tests and procedures may be used to detect and diagnose liver tumors, including:
  • Physical exam and history
  • Complete blood count
    Blood samples are drawn and analyzed for the different cell types as well as hemoglobin (the component in the red blood cell that carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues).
  • Serum tumor marker tests
    These blood tests can determine whether certain substances are being released into the blood by organs, tissues or tumor cells.
  • CT or CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan
    This procedure uses a computer connected to an X-ray machine to obtain detailed pictures of areas inside the body. A dye may be used to help visualize organs or tissues more clearly.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
    MRI creates a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, using the combination of a powerful magnet, radio waves and computer imaging.
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scan
    This scan is used to identify malignant cells even before an actual “lump or bump” can be detected in a physical exam, or on CAT or MRI scans. Prior to the scan, a small amount of radionuclide glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. Because cancer cells divide more frequently than normal cells, they take up more glucose than normal cells and appear brighter in the scan.
  • Ultrasound
    High-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs to create an image called a sonogram that provides an image of the liver, spleen and other organs.
  • Laparoscopy
    A surgical procedure used to examine internal organs by direct visualization. Small incisions are made in the abdominal wall, and a thin, lighted tube called laparoscope is inserted. During the procedure, the surgeon can inspect the abdominal organs and insert other instruments to take tissue samples for a biopsy  (examination of cells under a microscope).
  • Biopsy
    Tissue samples may be obtained in other ways beside laparoscopy. One method, called fine-needle aspiration or needle biopsy, involves inserting a thin needle into the liver during an X-ray or ultrasound procedure, and taking samples of cells.