Liver cancer is sometimes referred to as a “silent disease” because early liver cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms. As it grows, symptoms may include pain on the right side of the upper abdomen, swollen abdomen, weight loss and loss of appetite, weakness, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, jaundice, and fever.

If a patient has symptoms of liver cancer, a doctor may perform one or more of the following procedures:

Physical Exam - The doctor feels the abdomen to check the liver, spleen, and nearby organs for any lumps or changes in shape or size. The doctor also checks for ascites, abnormal buildups of fluid in the abdomen. The doctor checks the skin and eyes for signs of jaundice.

Serum Alpha Feto-Protein (AFP) Test - This test shows if there is an increased level of protein in the blood which may indicate the presence of a tumor. However, AFP may also be elevated by a different cancer or non-cancerous condition, so other tests are offered.

Blood Test - Samples of blood are used to check for liver problems. One test detects alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). High levels of AFP could be a sign of liver cancer. Other tests also show how well the liver is functioning.

Laparoscopy - This procedure allows the physician to view the abdominal organs through a laparoscope (small camera.)

CT Scan - An x-ray machine takes detailed pictures of the liver and other organs and blood vessels in the abdomen. From the CT scan, the doctor may see tumors in the liver or other parts of the abdomen.

Ultrasound - Sound waves and a computer are used to create a picture of the liver and other organs inside the abdomen, which can show tumors and abnormalities.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - This uses magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images of areas of the body. A doctor injects dye into the bile and pancreatic ducts, and x-rays can help determine blockages, which may be caused by tumors.

Angiogram - A doctor injects dye into an artery so that the blood vessels in the liver show up in an x-ray. This can reveal a tumor in the liver.

Biopsy - A pathologist looks at a sample of tissue from the pancreas under a microscope to check for cancer cells. The doctor may obtain tissue by fine needle aspiration, or inserting a thin needle into the liver. Sometimes the doctor does a core biopsy, using a thick needle, or a thin tube called a laparoscope through a small incision in the abdomen. 

Once the results from the test or procedure are returned you will be able to make thoughtful decisions. Please see Newly Diagnosed  for information on being patient active, treatment decisions, partnering with your healthcare team and finding support. 

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is difficult. Please see Caregivers and/or Online Support for more information on how the Cancer Support Community can offer support.

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