Screening tests check for problems before symptoms develop. There are no routine screening methods used to find liver cancer in people without known risk factors. If you do have risk factors for liver cancer, such as a history of heavy alcohol use, cirrhosis, or hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection, you should talk with a doctor about undergoing screening tests.
People who have cirrhosis of the liver should be closely monitored for liver cancer. This may include repeated blood tests for alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and ultrasound exams of the liver. AFP is a protein in the blood that typically decreases after birth. Increased levels of AFP have been linked to certain liver diseases, including liver cancers. Keep in mind, though, that not all types of liver cancer cause an elevation in AFP. Also, in some instances, AFP levels do not increase until the liver cancer has already spread to other sites in the body. For these reasons, this test is not always a good one for predicting liver cancer at a stage when it can still be treated easily.
Ultrasound imaging of the liver that is done on a regular basis may also be used by doctors to try to find liver cancer before it causes symptoms. An ultrasound machine uses sound waves to create pictures of the internal organs, including the liver. These pictures can help doctors to find tumors in the liver that they may not have otherwise known were there. Even so, it's not entirely clear how often doctors should perform liver ultrasounds in people at risk for liver cancer.