Your doctor can begin the diagnosis by asking you questions about your experience with the symptoms. He will seek to know your medical history and your family’s. In addition, your physician will examine your body, especially your abdomen, your skin and eyes for signs indicating the presence of liver cancer. However, these procedures cannot confirm the diagnosis; other medical techniques such as blood tests, imaging techniques and biopsy should be performed.
Blood tests – blood analysis can be recommended to measure levels of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) in your blood. Alpha-fetoprotein is a plasma-protein normally produced by a fetus during its development; it is, however, a tumor marker in adults. AFP is often synthesized by certain liver tumors; the diagnosis is confirmed if the rate is higher than 400 ng/mL, in case of cirrhosis and nodule over 2 cm.
In addition, the blood test can assess your liver function, and reveal liver function abnormalities.
Imaging Techniques – your doctor will recommend imaging tests such as x-ray, ultrasonography, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to visualize your liver. During the exams, your physician will inject an opaque dye into your arteries and veins of the liver to visualize its shape and size, and possibly discovered abnormalities.
Liver metastases (cancer that has spread to the liver from another organ or tissue) are much more common than primary liver cancer. Therefore, your physician may also analyze certain of your other organs to determine if you have a primary or secondary liver cancer.
Biopsy – even if the imaging techniques have revealed an abnormality in your liver, it is not sufficient to establish the diagnosis; a liver biopsy is necessary. Biopsy is important to confirm accurately the diagnosis of a primary liver cancer. This intervention is even more important if the results of blood tests and imaging techniques are inconclusive. The biopsy involves removing cells or tissue from your liver to examine under a microscope. However, liver biopsy can lead to bleeding, bruising or/and infection.