The CT (computed tomography) scanner is an x-ray machine that is linked to a computer. The CT scanner takes a series of detailed pictures from different angles around your body. The computer then combines these pictures to show the size, shape, and position of tumors in the liver or other parts of the abdomen. Many medical centers now use spiral or helical CT scanners, which are faster, use lower doses of radiation, and produce more detailed pictures than standard CT scans.
The MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner uses radio waves and strong magnets to make detailed pictures of soft tissues inside your body. MRI scanners do not use x-rays. Sometimes the technician will inject a dye into your vein to help see details more clearly. MRI scans are used to examine liver cancers as well as blood vessels in and around the liver. Sometimes MRI scans can show the difference between a benign (not cancerous) tumor and a malignant (cancerous) one.
The ultrasound device uses sound waves to produce a pattern of echoes as they bounce off organs in your body. The echoes create a black-and-white picture of your liver and other organs in the abdomen. Tumors produce echoes that are different from the echoes made by healthy tissues.
An angiogram is an x-ray test that includes injecting a special dye to outline the arteries that supply blood to the liver and the liver cancer tumor. Health care providers use angiograms to decide if a cancer can be surgically removed and to help plan the operation.
To look directly at the liver and other internal organs, a doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube (laparoscope) with a small video camera on the end through a small cut in the front of the abdomen (belly). If needed, doctors can also remove biopsy samples through the laparoscope. The samples are then looked at under a microscope to make or confirm the diagnosis of cancer. Laparoscopy can help doctors confirm the stage (extent) of the liver cancer, which is used to decide whether surgery is an option or whether other treatments are needed.