People do not usually get screened for liver cancer, but it is recommended for those who are at an increased risk to get screened. People who are at a higher risk are those with cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis, and those who consume excess alcohol.
The first step in diagnosis entails a visit to your doctor where you discuss your symptoms. Your doctor will likely carry out a full physical examination, rule out other liver conditions that may be causing your symptoms, order blood tests to look for hepatitis and see how your kidneys are functioning. These are referred to as liver function tests and are used to eliminate the possibility of other liver diseases.
In some cases, to cover all bases, your doctor may also order imaging tests such as CT scans to look for tumors in the liver and the stage if there is any. The blood tests typically reveal whether any tumor markers are present in the blood. Increased levels of alpha-fetoprotein and iron can also point to liver cancer.
If your primary physician’s tests show that you have cancerous cells in your liver, you then get a referral to a specialist, an oncologist to carry out your care and treatment. Each case is different, so your oncologist is likely to order more tests, which can include MRIs, CT scans, and biopsies.
A CT scan is used to detect tumors inside the body, to determine where they are located, how big they are, and their type. MRIs are used to gather further information about the type of tumors in the body.
Your oncologist can also determine whether the tumor has metastasized by using an angiography. A biopsy may also be needed which entails removing some tissue from the liver to examine it further. In many cases, imaging tests are enough for a doctor to reach a conclusive diagnosis so a biopsy is rarely required.
Liver cancer diagnosis period involves a sizeable care team, from your oncologist to your pathologists, which means you are almost never alone and have constant support and help around you. However, it is also crucial to have a strong emotional support system outside the hospital.
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