About liver cancer and how to know if you’re at risk

About liver cancer and how to know if you’re at risk

Julie Scott, DNP
Julie Scott, DNP

What is Liver Cancer?

The liver is an organ in the abdomen with many important bodily functions. From filtering blood, and activating enzymes to helping to metabolize nutrients, the liver has a large job in keeping the body functioning well. When liver cells become abnormal, they begin to grow out of control. This is when liver cancer develops.

Screening for cancer is done to find it early before it causes any symptoms.

Screening for liver cancer is not recommended for everyone but maybe for a high-risk group of people. Talk with your healthcare team to find out if you’re at high risk.

Who’s at high risk for liver cancer?

One of the highest risk factors for developing liver cancer is cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a liver disease in which the liver becomes scarred and doesn’t work as well as it used to. This most often occurs due to long-term liver damage, such as alcohol abuse or hepatitis infection.

Other risk factors for developing liver cancer include:

● Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

● Obesity

● Male sex

● Increasing age

● History of viral hepatitis


Screening for liver cancer

One of the tests that can be used to look for liver cancer is a blood test called an AFP. This stands for alpha-fetoprotein and is produced by some liver cancers. Overall, liver function can be checked by a blood test as well.

Imaging tests for liver cancer can include ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to produce images of the liver and can evaluate for the presence of a mass in the liver.

Another test is CT (computed tomography) scan. A CT scan can find abnormal areas on the liver that may need further investigation. Some types of liver cancer have a very specific appearance on imaging. If the AFP level is elevated and certain changes are seen on imaging, this can be diagnostic of liver cancer, even without a biopsy.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can also evaluate the liver. This test may be more sensitive in better evaluating any abnormalities seen on ultrasound or CT.

A biopsy may need to be done on abnormalities seen on imaging to provide a diagnosis if it’s not very clear based on imaging and lab tests as above.


Speak with your doctor if you are at risk for liver cancer so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not to be screened.

Screening for liver cancer is not routine, but it is important for high-risk individuals to be aware of the symptoms and get screened.

Julie Scott, DNP
Julie Scott, DNP
Julie is an oncology certified Oncology Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of medical oncology experience. In addition to her clinical work, she is an accomplished healthcare writer providing oncology content for various publications. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member for a Master's nursing program and a chair for Doctoral nursing students.

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