Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School



Liver cancer is usually diagnosed in later stages of the disease because symptoms do not appear until then.

Once your doctor suspects you might have liver cancer, he or she will use one or more of the following methods to diagnose the disease:

  • Physical examination. To check for weight loss, malnutrition, weakness, enlargement of the liver, and associated diseases such as hepatitis and cirrhosis.

  • Blood tests. To detect elevated levels of a protein associated with primary liver cancer.

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. An imaging test using x-rays to detect and locate tumors.

  • Ultrasound. An imaging test using sound waves that can determine if a spot on the liver is a tumor (solid growth) or a cyst (a fluid filled cavity).

  • Hepatic artery angiogram. A test that examines the blood vessels that supply blood to liver cancer. It also helps determine whether the tumor can be removed surgically.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An imaging test using magnetic fields that produces more detailed images than CT or ultrasound.

  • Biopsy. Removal of a small amount of tissue from a growth in the liver that is examined in a laboratory to determine if it is cancerous.

  • Laparoscopy. Insertion of a thin, lighted tube through a small incision in the abdomen to view the liver and surrounding organs and lymph nodes.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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