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Liver (Hepatocellular) Cancer Screening (PDQ®)

Patient Version
Last Modified: 06/26/2014

Risks of Liver (Hepatocellular) Cancer Screening



Screening tests have risks.

Decisions about screening tests can be difficult. Not all screening tests are helpful and most have risks. Before having any screening test, you may want to discuss the test with your doctor. It is important to know the risks of the test and whether it has been proven to reduce the risk of dying from cancer.

The risks of liver cancer screening include the following:

False-negative test results can occur.

Screening test results may appear to be normal even though liver cancer is present. A person who receives a false-negative test result (one that shows there is no cancer when there really is) may delay seeking medical care even if there are symptoms.

False-positive test results can occur.

Screening test results may appear to be abnormal even though no cancer is present. A false-positive test result (one that shows there is cancer when there really isn't) can cause anxiety and is usually followed by diagnostic tests and procedures, such as a liver biopsy, which also have risks.

Side effects may be caused by procedures to diagnose liver cancer.

Abnormal screening results may lead to a liver biopsy to diagnose liver cancer. Liver biopsy may cause the following rare, but serious, side effects:

  • Hemorrhage.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Leakage of bile, which can cause an infection of the lining of the abdomen.
  • A small puncture (hole) in an organ in the abdomen.
  • Spread of cancer cells along the needle path when the biopsy needle is inserted and withdrawn (taken out).

Your doctor can advise you about your risk for liver cancer and your need for screening tests.