It is often hard to detect liver cancer at early stages because they do not present any symptoms until they are advanced. Small liver tumors are difficult to identify during a physical examination because most of the liver is covered by the rib cage. The physicians identify cancer when it might already be quite large.
Currently, there are no early screening tests for liver cancer in people who are at average risk.
What are the tests to detect liver cancer in high-risk people?
People with long-standing cirrhosis may be at high risk of developing liver cancer. The physician may perform tests to identify liver cancer if a patient’s cirrhosis exacerbates for no apparent reason. Other reasons for categorizing people into high-risk groups include
- Hereditary hemochromatosis
- Chronic hepatitis B infection
People with high risk should carry out the following tests every six months to improve survival rates from liver cancer:
- Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) blood tests: AFP is a protein that can be measured in the blood of patients with liver cancer. However, it isn’t an optimal test for liver cancer because many patients with early liver cancer have normal AFP levels.
What are the early signs and symptoms of liver cancer?
Most symptoms of liver cancer do not appear until it is in the advanced stages. However, sometimes, they may show up earlier. Recognizing symptoms earlier may help the doctor treat cancer more efficiently. Some of the most common symptoms of liver cancer are
- Weight loss (without trying)
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling full after a small meal
- Nausea or vomiting
- An enlarged liver that feels like fullness under the ribs on the right side
- An enlarged spleen that feels like fullness under the ribs on the left side
- Pain in the abdomen or near the right shoulder blade
- Swelling or fluid buildup in the abdomen
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
Some liver tumors may also cause
- Hypercalcemia (high blood calcium levels can cause nausea, confusion, constipation, weakness, or muscle problems)
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels can cause fatigue or fainting)
- Gynecomastia (breast enlargement and/or shrinkage of the testicles in men)
- Erythrocytosis (high counts of red blood cells can cause someone to look red and flushed)
- High cholesterol levels
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What are the tests used to diagnose liver cancer?
The physicians detect liver cancer with the help of the following tests:
- Medical history and physical examination: If experiencing symptoms of liver cancer, consult the doctor to learn more about symptoms and possible risk factors. The doctor will enquire about medical history and look out for any signs that may indicate liver cancer.
- Imaging tests: Imaging tests may be carried out for several reasons, including
- To help find suspicious areas that might be cancer
- To assist a doctor guide a biopsy needle into a suspicious region to take a sample
- To learn the extent of cancer spread
- To guide particular treatments in the liver
- To help determine if treatment is effective
- To look for possible signs of cancer recurring after treatment
- Ultrasound: It can identify the tumors growing in the liver.
- Angiography: Angiography can be used to show the arteries that supply blood to liver cancer.
- Biopsy: It involves the removal of a sample tissue from the suspicious part to check for cancer.
- Blood tests: Liver function tests, blood clotting tests, kidney function tests, and complete blood count (CBC).
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