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Diagnosis

For many people, the first stage of diagnosing liver cancer is a consultation with a GP, although people at risk are usually tested regularly for the condition.

If you visit your GP, they'll ask about your symptoms, when they started, and when they're noticeable. They'll also examine you.

If they feel you need further tests, you'll be referred to a hospital specialist. Some of the tests you may have are described below.

Surveillance for liver cancer

If you're in a high-risk group for developing liver cancer, such as having a history of liver disease, regular screening – known as surveillance – is often recommended. This is because the earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the greater the chance there is of curing it.

Surveillance is usually carried out every 6 months and often involves:

Surveillance is usually recommended if you have cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), although there are other factors that can also affect your risk of liver cancer.

The potential benefits of surveillance should be discussed with you before you enter any screening programme.

Further testing

The tests above can also be used to look for liver cancer in people who are not being routinely screened.

If these initial tests suggest there's a chance you could have liver cancer, one or more further tests will usually be recommended to confirm the diagnosis.

The further tests include:

After these tests have been carried out, it's usually possible to confirm a diagnosis of liver cancer and determine the condition's "stage".

Staging liver cancer

Staging is a term used to describe how far a particular cancer has spread. There are a number of different systems used to stage liver cancer.

Many liver cancer specialists use combination staging systems that include features of both the cancer and the underlying liver function to stage a person's condition.

This is because the length of time a person lives and how well they tolerate potential treatments will be determined not only by how advanced their cancer is, but also by their level of health and how good their underlying liver function is.

In the UK, liver cancer specialists normally use a staging system called the Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) staging system.

The BCLC staging system is based on how well your liver is working, how far the cancer has spread and your overall health.

There are 5 stages:

Read more about staging primary liver cancer on the Cancer Research UK website.