Skip to main content
Explore URMC

Wilmot Cancer Institute Logo

menu

Symptoms & Diagnosis

The Wilmot Cancer Institute provides the full spectrum of liver cancer care, from initial diagnosis and treatment to recovery and rehabilitation.

We work in multidisciplinary teams. Multidisciplinary means that our care providers include experts with a variety of specialties: surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, nurse practitioners, social workers, and clinical researchers. They work together on your case to provide the most personalized care possible.

Liver cancer symptoms

Getting an accurate diagnosis is essential to getting the best treatment. People who have chronic hepatitis may begin to feel worse if liver cancer is present, or they may have changes in their lab test results. Most symptoms for liver cancer do not show up in early stages of the disease but it's important to see a doctor right away if you are experiencing:

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss without trying
  • Feeling very full after a small meal
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain in the abdomen or near the right shoulder blade
  • Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen
  • Pale, chalky bowel movements and dark urine
  • Itching
  • Feeling a lump under the ribs on the right side
  • Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes

How is liver cancer diagnosed?

Medical history and physical examination: This step includes a complete medical history and assessment of risk factors and symptoms. The physical exam will focus on the abdomen, skin, and whites of the eyes to look for jaundice.

Imaging: Ultrasound is often used first to look for liver cancer. CT scans and MRIs provide more detailed images. Angiograms are x-rays that show blood vessels and can be used to plan for surgery to remove liver cancer. Bone scans can show if the cancer has spread.

Laparoscopy: A thin tube with a camera on the end is inserted into the abdomen to look at the liver and other areas for tumors, the stage of cancer, and to plan for surgery.

Biopsy: A biopsy involves removing cells or other tissues for further examination by a pathologist. Liver biopsies can involve a fine needle biopsy or core biopsy. Sometimes doctors avoid biopsies for liver cancer due to concerns that puncturing the organ could cause cancer cells to spread. This is particularly a concern if a patient might be a candidate for a liver transplant.

Lab and blood tests: Drawing blood from a patient and testing it not only helps to diagnose cancer but might tell how well the liver is functioning and what caused the cancer. These tests look for a tumor marker called alpha-fetoprotein (which is sometimes at high levels when liver cancer is present), evaluate liver and kidney function, blood clotting ability (a damaged liver impedes blood clotting), and look for elevated calcium and cholesterol, for example.