Liver Biopsy

Depending on the results of your physical exam and other tests, your doctor may recommend a biopsy. In a biopsy, a surgeon removes a sample of your liver tissue and a pathologist examines it under a microscope to look for cancer cells. While it can be frightening to have a doctor tell you that you need a biopsy, remember that getting a biopsy doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer.

Words to Know

A pathologist is a doctor who examines samples of body tissue and fluid to diagnose disease.

Biopsies are usually needed to verify whether a tumor or abnormality is cancerous. If it is, the tissue taken during a biopsy can also provide important information about the specific type of cancer, whether it’s invasive, and how advanced it is, which helps determine the most effective course of treatment.

Here are some of the main types of biopsy used to diagnose liver cancer:

In fine-needle aspiration, a thin, hollow needle is inserted through your skin into your liver to remove a small amount of tissue. Your doctor may use a CT scan or ultrasound to guide the needle. You may receive local anaesthesia to numb the skin where the needle is inserted so you won’t feel any pain. This procedure can help doctors determine whether the mass is a benign fluid-filled cyst or cancer.

In a core biopsy, your doctor obtains a sample of tissue using a slightly larger needle to remove a sample of the abnormal tissue. This procedure is usually done using a local anaesthesia in the skin where the procedure will take place. Ultrasound is often used during this procedure to locate the irregular area precisely and guide the placement of the needle to draw a tissue sample.

In a laparoscopy, your doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube known as a laparoscope into a small incision made in your abdomen to remove a tissue sample. The light helps your doctor find the exact area of tissue that needs to be removed. He or she then removes the tissue with another small instrument that can be inserted either through the laparoscope, or another small cut in your abdomen.

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