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Tests and Diagnosis

Medical history and physical exam

Your doctor will ask about your medical history to check for risk factors and learn more about your symptoms. Your doctor will also examine you to look for signs of liver cancer and other health problems, probably paying special attention to your abdomen and check your skin and the whites of your eyes looking for jaundice (a yellowish color).

If symptoms and/or the results of the physical exam suggest you might have liver cancer, other tests will probably be done. These might include imaging tests, lab tests, and other procedures.

Imaging tests

Imaging tests use x-rays, magnetic fields, or sound waves to create pictures of the inside of your body. Imaging tests are done for a number of reasons, including:

  • To help find suspicious areas that might be cancerous
  • To help diagnose liver cancer
  • To help a doctor guide a biopsy needle into a suspicious area to take a sample
  • To learn how far cancer might have spread
  • To help guide certain treatments in the liver
  • To help determine if treatment has been effective
  • To look for a possible recurrence of the cancer People who have (or may have) liver cancer may get one or more of the following tests.


Ultrasound is often the first test used to look at the liver. Ultrasound (ultrasonography) is the use of sound waves to create an image on a video screen. A small instrument called a transducer gives off sound waves and picks up the echoes as they bounce off the organs. The echoes are converted by a computer into a black-and-white image. This test can show masses (tumors) growing in the liver, which can then be tested for cancer, if needed.

This is a very easy test to have, and it uses no radiation. For most ultrasound exams, you simply lie on a table while the transducer (which is shaped like a wand) is moved around on the skin over the part of your body being looked at. Usually, the skin is first lubricated with gel.

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