Liver Cancer: Screening

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2023

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about screening for liver cancer. You will also learn the risks and benefits of screening. Use the menu to see other pages.

Screening is used to look for cancer before you have any symptoms or signs. Scientists have developed, and continue to develop, tests that can be used to screen a person for specific types of cancer. The overall goals of cancer screening are to:

  • Lower the number of people who die from the disease, or eliminate deaths from cancer altogether

  • Lower the number of people who develop the disease

  • Identify people who may need more frequent screening or a different type of screening because they have a higher risk of developing cancer due to genetic mutations, hereditary syndromes, or family history

Learn more about the basics of cancer screening.

How are people screened for liver cancer?

If you know you have cirrhosis or other risk factors, it is extremely important to talk with your doctor about whether you should be regularly screened for liver cancer. Finding a cancer before any symptoms have developed will increase the chance of successful treatment. Hepatologists are the doctors with the most experience in screening for primary liver cancer. You may also see the term “surveillance” used to explain this, but this means the same as screening.

Screening options for liver cancer include testing the blood for a substance called alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), which may be produced by cancer cells, or having imaging tests like an ultrasound, computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). More information about these tests can be found in the Diagnosis section.

Talk with a hepatologist about which screening tests they recommend and how often to have them based on your medical history. Different guidelines apply to different causes of liver disease.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what changes or medical problems liver cancer can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.