How is liver cancer diagnosed?

Your doctor may think about liver cancer if they find lumps or other symptoms during your physical exam. The doctor might order other tests, like:

  • Blood tests: A serum marker test measures the amounts of certain substances linked to cancer. For liver cancer, cirrhosis, and hepatitis, the substance alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) may show up in higher levels. AFP in high levels is considered a tumor marker. Liver enzyme tests that show high levels of liver enzymes may also point to liver disease.
  • Ultrasound (sonography): This test provides pictures of your soft tissue structures.
  • Computed Tomography (CT Scan): This special type of X-ray takes detailed images of organs.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): This test produces very clear images of the human body using a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer.
  • Angiogram: During this test, a dye is injected into an artery to show liver tissue and any tumors.
  • Laparoscopy: The doctor uses a thin tube with a light (laparoscope) to observe the liver and other organs inside the stomach area.
  • Biopsy: The removal of tissue for study under a microscope. It may be done using a laparoscope. A biopsy is the most reliable way to determine cancer.

What are the stages of liver cancer?

One thought you might have when you hear that you have cancer is, “Has it spread?” The doctor uses a process called staging to give the cancer diagnosis a number from I to IV. The higher the number, the more cancer has a chance to spread. Cancers are also defined by how they can be treated, mostly by deciding if cancer can be removed by surgery.

Liver cancer stages include the following:

  • Stage I: One tumor is found in the liver only.
  • Stage II: One tumor is found, but it has spread to the blood vessels, OR more than one tumor is present, but they are all smaller than 3 cm.
  • Stage III: In Stage III liver cancer, there is more than one tumor and one of them at least is larger than 5 cm, OR the cancer has moved beyond the liver to large blood vessels, another organ, or to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV: The cancer has spread to other places in the body, such as the lungs or bones, as well as lymph nodes.

Liver cancer that has returned may be also be called recurrent. Recurrent liver cancer could come back in the liver or anywhere else in the body.

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