Liver Cancer Diagnosis & Detection
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Video: Diagnosing Liver CancerDiagnosing Liver Cancer
Diagnosing Liver Cancer
How is liver cancer diagnosed? Listen to Dr. Leon Yoder, one of our experienced gastroenterologists, explain.
At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) our team of cancer doctors uses sophisticated, minimally invasive technology to evaluate every patient and develop your liver cancer treatment plan.
During your first visit to a CTCA hospital, you’ll undergo a comprehensive exam to evaluate the liver cancer and determine if it has spread to any other part of your body. If you have been recently diagnosed, we will review your pathology to confirm you have received the correct liver cancer diagnosis and staging information, and develop a personalized treatment plan. If you have a recurrence, we will perform comprehensive testing and identify treatments that are better suited to your needs.
Throughout your treatment, we will use diagnostic imaging and laboratory tests to monitor how the liver cancer is responding. If the cancer is resisting treatment, we will modify your treatment plan or recommend using a different therapy.
How is Liver Cancer Diagnosed?
Liver cancer typically does not cause any symptoms in the early stages. Instead, it is often detected once the disease has progressed and an abdominal mass has been discovered. The following tests are often the first step in diagnosing liver cancer:
- Physical exam: Your doctor may examine the abdomen for any nodules or bumps, which are explored in greater detail with imaging technology. Your doctor will also look for signs of jaundice in your eyes.
- Laboratory tests: Your doctor will perform a variety of liver function tests (LFTs) to assess the function of the liver by measuring the level of certain proteins or waste products in the blood. These liver cancer tests may also be used to help stage the cancer, develop a treatment plan, and evaluate the effectiveness of your treatment plan.
Besides LFTs, complete blood count (CBC), kidney function tests, and electrolytes and blood chemistry tests (blood calcium or cholesterol levels) may be checked.
Imaging & Diagnostic Tests for Liver Cancer
We use these imaging tools to confirm that a liver mass is present, and to detect if the cancer has spread beyond the liver. In addition to assisting your team in making an accurate liver cancer diagnosis, these advanced diagnostic imaging tools may also be used to deliver chemotherapy and radiation treatments to tumors.
- CT scan: This is an X-ray test for liver cancer that produces detailed cross-sectional images of the organ under study. It can provide precise information about the size, shape, and position of any tumors in the liver or elsewhere in the abdomen, as well as nearby blood vessels. CT scans can also be used to guide a biopsy needle precisely into a suspected tumor (CT-guided needle biopsy). At CTCA, you will have the benefit of newer and advanced technologies, such as the spiral CT (also known as helical CT), which uses a faster machine that reduces the dose of radiation and yields more detailed images.
- MRI scan: This is one of the innovative technologies used at CTCA to precisely pinpoint the location of liver cancer cells within your body. Like CT scans, MRI scans provide detailed images of soft tissues in the body. But, instead of X-rays, MRI scans use magnetic energy and radio waves to create cross-sectional images or "slices" of the human body. A contrast material called gadolinium is often injected into a vein before the scan to see details more clearly. MRI scans may sometimes be able to distinguish between benign and malignant tumors. They can also be used to look at blood vessels in and around the liver.
- Ultrasound: This is a test that uses sound waves and their echoes to produce an image of internal organs or masses. This is an easy liver cancer test and many experts recommend that the test be done every 6 to 12 months to assess progress.
- Bone scan: A bone scan provides information on cancer that has spread to the bones. Doctors usually order this test only when the patient has symptoms such as bone pain, or if there's a chance he/she may be eligible for a liver transplant to treat the cancer. Areas of active bone changes appear as "hot spots" on the skeletal image. Although it is likely the hot spots are defined by presence of cancer, other bone diseases can also cause the same pattern. To confirm the presence of cancer in the bones, other imaging tests for liver cancer, such as standard X-rays or MRI scans, or even a bone biopsy, may be needed.
Liver Cancer Biopsy
Several biopsy methods can be used to take samples of liver tissue, including fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy, core needle biopsy, or laparoscopic biopsy. Laparoscopy is a minimally invasive method of obtaining a tissue sample without the risks of surgery.
Next Topic: Liver Cancer Staging Information