Medical Tests and Diagnosis
Liver cancer symptoms can be similar with other medical disorders and
only a doctor can establish a correct diagnosis. The diagnosis procedure
involves a certain number of steps:
Anamnesis (detailed medical review of past health state):
One of the first steps in establishing a liver cancer diagnosis is a detailed
and complex medical review of a patient's past health problems and general
health state, family medical history, liver cancer risk factors, and symptoms.
During the physical examination, the doctor looks for noticeable signs
of lung cancer like jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of
the eyes caused by an accumulation of bile pigment bilirubin
in the blood) and ascentis (accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal
cavity). Also, the doctor will examine the abdominal cavity looking for
modifications (lumps, swellings) of the internal organs like the liver,
spleen, and adjacent organs.
For patient that might suffer from liver cancer, there are two
main sets of blood tests performed. The first set of blood tests,
called a complete blood count, examines the concentration of blood
components like the red, white blood cells and platelets . These
Hematocrit: This test measures the volume
of red blood cells as a percent of the total blood volume.
Hemoglobin: This test measures the number
of grams of red blood cells in a sample of blood.
Platelet Count: This test measures the
number of platelets and assesses the blood's ability to clot.
White Blood Count: This test measures
the number of white blood cells in a sample of blood.
The second set of blood tests, called the liver function tests, examines
the blood components closely related to the liver. The purpose of this
blood test is to determine the overall health of the liver.
- CEA test: This test measures the level of carcinoembryonic
antigen (CEA) in the blood. CEA is normally a protein produced by the
fetus in the first two trimesters of pregnancy, but it is also present
in high levels in patients that suffer from digestive system, lung,
and breast carcinomas, or with liver metastases from colon cancer.
- AFP test: This test measures the level of alpha fetoprotein
(AFP) in the blood. AFP is another substance which is normally produced
by the fetus and by a new-born baby in his/her first 9 and 12 months
of life. High levels of AFP are present in patients that suffer from
Computed tomography (CT): This imaging test is
similar with an x-ray test, and creates a detailed cross-sectional
image of the body.
A CT scan is usually performed in two steps for a better diagnoses
1). First, the targeted area is scanned without a contrast agent.
2). Second, the targeted area is scanned after a contrast agent was
This is an effective test to reveal liver cancer tumors.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): This imaging
technique uses radio waves and strong magnets to reveal a complete
image of the liver. The energy from the radio waves is absorbed by
the tissues and then revealed into a recognizable pattern on a special
Chest X-ray: An x-ray test uses high energy electromagnetic
radiation to penetrate the body and create an image of the
body's interior on a film. A chest x-ray can reveal tumors of the
liver, provides useful information on the general health state of
the liver, and determines whether or not the cancer has spread to
other organs or if fluid has collected around the lungs.
Angiography or CT-Angiogram: This imaging technique
is similar with a CT scan, and is used to examine the blood vessels.
This test provides useful information on the number and location of
the liver tumors.
The liver receives blood from portal veins (which carries high nutrient
blood from the spleen, pancreas, small and large intestine) and the
hepatic artery (which carries blood rich in oxygen from the heart).
The normal, healthy liver cells receive their blood supply from the
portal vein, while the tumor cells receive their blood supply from
the hepatic artery. During this test, a contrast agent is injected
into the portal vein which is absorbed by the livers cells.
The healthy area of the liver will appear as a light color tissue
and the liver tumor will look black.
Ultrasound: Ultrasound imaging is a medical technique
that uses high-frequency sound waves to create an interior image of
the body on a special computer screen. This image is formed from the
echoes of the sound waves on the surface of the organs. Abnormal tissue
masses and organs reflect sound waves differently. This test involves
a device called a transducer, that is placed on the upper part of
the abdomen, and a computer that translates this sound into an image.
Ultrasound imaging is a safe, noninvasive and brief test that can
detect liver tumors.
Laparoscopy: This is a surgical procedure used
to examine the liver and organs around the liver. This procedure uses
a thin tube, called a laparoscope, which is inserted through a small
incision into the patient's chest cavity. During this procedure the
doctor can remove small samples of tissue for a microscopic examination.
This is an effective diagnosis method which confirms if the tumor or abnormal
growth is a malignant tissue or not. A biopsy is a medical procedure where
a sample of tissue is removed from the target area and then examined.
There are two ways to remove a tissue sample:
- Through a needle aspiration.
- Through a laparoscopy.
Article by Alina Morrow, MS
Page Covers: What are the tests for liver cancer?