Liver cancer symptoms & diagnosis
Seeing your doctor and being diagnosed
When you go to see your doctor, explain your symptoms in full. It may help to write everything down before you go to ensure you tell them everything, including which symptoms you have noticed, when they started, when they happen and how often they happen.
Tell your doctor about any existing illnesses you have (particularly liver disease, although that should be on your medical records), and any family history of liver disease or cancer.
Take a friend or relative along for support if needed. Sometimes it’s hard to remember all the questions you wanted to ask or to take in everything the doctor is telling you and having someone there can really help.
Also remember, there is no need to be embarrassed. Doctors are very used to discussing intimate problems and everything you tell them is completely confidential.
Your doctor might do a general examination, particularly any areas that may be swollen or painful, such as the abdomen. They may refer you for tests or to a specialist.
In the first instance, it is likely you will be sent to the hospital to have a blood test. Blood tests can provide a good indication to your overall health, and specifically how well your liver is working.
Liver blood tests look at how well the liver is functioning and can indicate whether there is any damage or inflammation inside the liver.
If the specialist wants to take a close look at your liver, they will probably suggest one of the following scans:
- Ultrasound: uses high frequency sound waves, which can reveal changes in the liver.
- Computed Tomography (CT) scan: uses X-rays to take detailed pictures of your body, revealing any abnormal areas in your liver.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan: creates pictures using magnetism and radio waves, revealing any abnormal areas in your liver.
Sometimes it’s necessary to remove a piece of liver tissue for laboratory testing in order to make a definitive diagnosis of liver cancer. This is known as a liver biopsy.
A doctor will inject a local anaesthetic to numb the area. The doctor will then pass a thin needle through the skin into the tumour, using a CT scan or ultrasound to guide them to the exact area to take the biopsy from.
This will then be examined under a microscope and a definitive diagnosis can be given.