If you have the symptoms of liver cancer you should at first book an appointment with your GP. They will ask you about your symptoms and how they have developed and may conduct a physical examination, for instance, feeling the abdomen for tenderness or a lump. If they are concerned you may be referred to either a hospital for further testing or to a specialist.
Liver cancer diagnostic tests can include blood tests, ultrasound scan, CT scan, MRI scan, and biopsy, where a small portion of cells are removed from the liver for further testing. A laparoscopy is also an option, this is an operation that allows doctors to look directly at your liver and notice signs of cancer.
After a diagnosis of liver cancer has been received it is important for the cancer to be staged, this is where it is assessed and it can have an impact on treatment options. The stages of liver cancer range from 1 to 4, where 1 is early stage cancer and 4 means the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. In order to accurately conduct liver cancer staging, further tests may need to be conducted.
There is currently no national screening programme in the UK that can accurately achieve a liver cancer diagnosis during the early stages before symptoms become apparent. However, if you are considered to be at high risk of developing liver cancer you may be recommended for regular check-ups. Surveillance for liver cancer is usually recommended if you have scarring of the liver, also known as cirrhosis.
Surveillance for liver cancer is usually carried out every six months and typically involves an ultrasound to highlight any abnormalities and a liver cancer blood test, which will look for a protein called alphaetoprotein.