Liver cancer is diagnosed via a medical history and physical exam followed by imaging tests, laparoscopy, biopsy and lab tests, according to the American Cancer Society. Generally, if a doctor suspects liver cancer, an ultrasound is ordered to look at the liver and any suspicious tissue is biopsied.
A computed tomography, or CT, scan may be used to provide a more detailed look at the liver and identify different types of liver tumors, notes the ACS. A CT scan can provide information about the position, shape and size of a tumor and other information that can help in a definitive diagnosis. CT scans are also useful in guiding the needle used in a needle biopsy.
MRI studies of the liver and surrounding areas of the body may also be used in diagnosing liver cancer, according to the ACS. The results of MRIs are so detailed that they can often be used to distinguish malignant tumors from benign tumors.
Biopsy of a sample of the tissue of a tumor is used to determine if the tumor is cancerous. In addition to needle biopsy guided by CT scan, a laparoscopic biopsy is another option that is used to obtain a sample of tissue using a very small incision and a laparoscope, notes the ACS.