Liver Cyst (Hepatic Cyst) > Should I Worry If I Have a Liver Cyst?

Diagnosing liver cysts

Your doctor will listen to your complaints and then examine your abdomen for tenderness or swellings. Then, they will most probably order an imaging test and some lab tests to confirm the diagnosis. Many cysts are diagnosed incidentally, and many patients may be diagnosed when they undergo imaging studies for other causes.

Lab tests are not specific, but they can be ordered when another diagnosis is suspected. They include:

  • Routine lab tests: such as a complete blood count, kidney function tests and coagulation profile. Kidney function tests are of particular importance because of their association with polycystic liver disease.
  • Liver function tests: Liver function tests are usually normal in simple cysts, but can become impaired in polycystic liver disease -albeit late in the disease- and in the case of liver cancer.
  • Tumor markers: Tumor markers are special proteins that are either secreted by tumor cells or secreted as a response to their presence. They are tested to exclude cancer if its diagnosis is probable, but they are never enough to diagnose a cancer on their own. They include alpha fetoprotein in the case of hepatocellular carcinoma and CEA in the case of cystadenocarcinoma.

Imaging studies are more specific and can outline the presence of a cyst. They include:

  • Ultrasound: Abdominal ultrasound is usually the first test ordered by your doctor and the most readily available. It can be found in all clinics. It helps diagnose a cyst especially a hydatid cyst and can be used in the local treatment of it. The main drawback of ultrasound is that it may not be suitable to determine whether a cyst is benign or malignant.
  • CT: CT scanning is one of the most precise imaging modalities. It can be used when malignancy is suspected or if a complication occurred such as rupture of the tumor.
  • MRCP: MRCP is a form of magnetic resonance imaging used to visualize the biliary tract. It is usually resorted to in cases of jaundice when the cause is unknown. Jaundice can occur when a large cyst compresses the biliary tree or if it ruptured into the tree especially in the case of hydatid cysts.

Written by Martin Davis