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designated cancer center

Diagnosing Liver Cancer

The same diagnosis tools are used for both primary and metastatic liver cancer. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for metastatic liver cancer may include one or more of several tests: liver function tests, abdominal ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, or biopsy.

Liver Function Tests

These are a series of special blood tests that can determine if the liver is functioning properly.

Abdominal Ultrasound (also called sonography)

This is a diagnostic imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the internal organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs of the abdomen such as the liver spleen, and kidneys and to assess blood flow through various vessels.

Computed Tomography Scan (CT or CAT scan)

This scan is a diagnostic imaging procedure using a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce both horizontal and vertical cross-sectional images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

This diagnostic procedure uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

Liver Biopsy

In this procedure, tissue samples from the liver are removed (with a needle or during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope. There are three types of liver biopsies.

Percutaneous or Needle Biopsy

After a local anesthetic is given, the physician inserts the special biopsy needle into the liver to obtain a sample. Ultrasonography or fluoroscopy (a type of x-ray "movie") may be used to guide the biopsy needle insertion. Most liver biopsies are performed using this technique.

Laparoscopic or Open Biopsy

After a general anesthetic is given, the physician makes an incision in the skin and surgically removes a piece of the liver. Depending upon the lab findings, further surgery may be performed.

Transvenous Biopsy

After a local anesthetic is given, the physician makes an incision into a vein on one side of the neck and inserts a specially designed hollow tube called a sheath through the vein down to the liver. One or more tissue samples are removed through the tube.

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