Can a CAT Scan Falsely Diagnose Liver Cancer?

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ask the experts

Can a CAT scan be misinterpreted, meaning could someone be told that they have cancer of the liver, when in fact they might have cirrhosis of the liver? Should a second check be done?

Doctor's Response:

Every test that requires interpretation can be "mis"interpreted, and the CAT (CT) scan is no exception. Cirrhosis of the liver results from the death of the normal liver cells followed by formation of scar tissue and re-growth of abnormal liver cells. In one type of cirrhosis (macronodular cirrhosis), re-growth results in large nodules of abnormal liver cells that may be mistaken for tumors, benign or malignant (cancer). Tests other than the CT scan may be used to help differentiate tumors from cirrhosis (e.g., angiography, MRI), but ultimately, a definite differentiation of tumor from cirrhosis usually requires a liver biopsy. For more information about liver biopsy, see our full medical article on liver biopsy.

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Reviewed on 1/11/2018