Early Detection

Though liver cancer may not present symptoms in its early stages, doctors generally recommend that only individuals at high risk get screened — or tested before any symptoms are present. If you have cirrhosis, are on a waiting list for a liver transplant, or if you have chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections, your doctor may recommend that you get screened or monitored for liver cancer.

There aren’t any standard screening tests for liver cancer. But, tests currently being used and studied are ultrasound, testing your blood for the presence of a protein called alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), and CT scan. While these tests may help detect liver cancer in its early stages, the tests are not fail-proof and may miss some cancers.

Risks of screening

There are risks associated with screening, which is why it’s not done routinely. For instance, tests may produce a false negative, which means that the cells appear normal even though cancer cells are present. Conversely, tests can produce false positives, which appear to indicate cancer is present though it’s not.

False positives can lead to more testing, which carries risks and costs. For instance, if screening tests show an abnormality, your doctor may request a liver biopsy to determine whether you have liver cancer. A biopsy may result in certain rare, but serious, side effects, including:

  • Hemorrhage, or blood loss due to damaged blood vessels
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bile leakage, which may cause an infection in the lining of the abdomen
  • The creation of a small hole in an organ within the abdomen, such as the gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, or kidneys
  • Spreading of cancer cells from the biopsy needle

Talk with your doctor if you believe screening may be helpful in your situation.

We care about your feedback. Let us know how we can improve your CancerCompass experience.