Diagnosis

Diagnosing liver cancer

Tests and procedures used to diagnose liver cancer include:

  • Blood tests. Blood tests may reveal liver function abnormalities.
  • Imaging tests. Your doctor may recommend imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • Removing a sample of liver tissue for testing. Your doctor may recommend removing a piece of liver tissue for laboratory testing in order to make a definitive diagnosis of liver cancer.

    During a liver biopsy, your doctor inserts a thin needle through your skin and into your liver to obtain a tissue sample. In the lab, doctors examine the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells. Liver biopsy carries a risk of bleeding, bruising and infection.

Determining the extent of the liver cancer

Once liver cancer is diagnosed, your doctor will work to determine the extent (stage) of the cancer. Staging tests help determine the size and location of cancer and whether it has spread. Imaging tests used to stage liver cancer include CTs, MRIs and bone scans.

There are different methods of staging liver cancer. One method uses Roman numerals I through IV, and another uses letters A through D. Your doctor uses your cancer's stage to determine your treatment options and your prognosis. Stage IV and stage D indicate the most advanced liver cancer with the worst prognosis.