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Tests That Help Evaluate Liver Cancer

Once your doctor knows you have liver cancer, you may need other tests to see whether or not the cancer has spread outside of the liver. This allows doctors to determine the stage of the cancer and to design an effective treatment plan. After being diagnosed with liver cancer, you may need one or more of the following tests:

  • Angiography. This specialized type of X-ray helps to show the blood vessels supplying blood to a liver tumor. This information helps doctors decide whether a tumor can be removed. Dye is injected into the blood vessels in the liver. The dye makes the blood vessels easier to see and shows any unusual changes that may be caused by a tumor. Advanced MRIs and CT scans can also show blood vessels that surround liver tumors.

  • Laparoscopy. This test helps doctors to see tumors on the surface of the liver and whether or not they extend to nearby organs. Laparoscopy is a procedure that uses a thin, lighted tube called a laparoscope. The doctor inserts this tube into your body through a small incision in your abdomen to see the liver and other organs. The laparoscope gives the doctor a good view of many of your internal organs.

  • IOU (intraoperative ultrasound). This test helps show tumors deep inside the liver. An IOU is an ultrasound done at the time of surgery or laparoscopy. 

Blood tests

Your doctor may also take some samples of your blood for testing:

  • Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) blood test. AFP is a protein in the blood that typically decreases right after birth. AFP levels are higher in people with certain types of liver cancer. Comparing your AFP levels before and after treatment can show whether the cancer is gone or is starting to come back. Certain rare cancers of the ovaries and testicles can also give a person a high level of AFP. AFP levels can also be elevated in other diseases of the liver besides liver cancer. 

  • Liver function tests. These tests check liver function and can reveal liver irritation and inflammation. If the tests show that your liver has been damaged, your doctor may do other tests to see whether you have cancer.