Diagnosis and Staging

An accurate liver cancer diagnosis is the first step in determining the best treatment plan that our team will create specifically for you. Once we have a diagnosis, we’ll stage the cancer, which means we’ll see how large it is and if it has spread.

UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center has highly trained specialists and the most advanced equipment to diagnose and stage liver cancer. Our radiologists specialize in gastrointestinal cancers and have unique expertise in abdominal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a common tool used to stage (and sometimes diagnose) liver cancer.


To diagnose liver cancer, we may perform one or more of the following:

  • Physical exam – to check your abdomen for lumps or swelling and to identify signs of jaundice
  • Blood tests – to measure your level of a protein produced by the liver called alpha fetoprotein (AFP), which is elevated in many cases of primary liver cancer. Other blood tests can show how well the liver is functioning
  • Biopsy – to remove a sample of liver tissue for examination under a microscope. However, if you have hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer, we can diagnose without a biopsy if it has characteristic appearance on an MRI or CT scan
  • Molecular testing – to gather biomarker information about your specific tumor to help determine if specific treatments will have an effect


After the diagnostic testing to confirm liver cancer, we’ll conduct additional tests to learn more about your tumor and determine how much it has spread, if any. This process is called tumor staging.

AT UT Southwestern, we offer the most advanced imaging equipment operated by highly trained experts to diagnose and stage liver cancer. Imaging tests may include ultrasound, computed tomography (CT scan), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Information from staging tests helps us figure out if the cancer:

  • Is in one area and can be completely removed
  • Is in one area but cannot be completely removed safely
  • Has spread throughout the liver or to other parts of the body

With this information, our experienced team will discuss the results with you and determine the best treatment strategy for your situation.

Schedule an Appointment

To schedule a visit with a liver cancer specialist at UT Southwestern’s facilities in Dallas or to learn more about our services, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.