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Childhood Liver Cancer Diagnosis

MD Anderson's Children's Cancer Hospital has the most up-to-date technology and advanced expertise to accurately diagnose pediatric liver cancer.

Our specialized pathologists are highly experienced in pinpointing the disease, which can make a difference by increasing the likelihood of successful treatment. They have at their fingertips the most detailed imaging tools, including precise triple-phase CT scans.

Diagnostic tests

If your doctor is concerned your child may have liver cancer, the first step is a thorough physical examination. The doctor also will ask you questions about your child's health and your family medical history.

One or more of the following tests may be used to find out if your child has liver cancer and if it has spread. These tests also may be used to find out if treatment is working.

Blood tests, including alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels, may be used to test for liver cancer.

Imaging tests, which may include:

  • CT or CAT (computed axial tomography) scans
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scans
  • Ultrasound
  • X-ray
  • Angiogram, which makes liver blood vessels visible with an X-ray


A sample of tissue from the tumor or the healthy part of the liver is removed and looked at with a microscope. Healthy tissue may be tested to see how well the liver is working. A biopsy may be done by:

  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA): A thin needle is inserted into the liver to remove a small amount of tissue.
  • Core biopsy: This is similar to FNA, but a thicker needle is used to remove small cylinder-shaped samples (cores).
  • Laparoscopy: A small incision (cut) is made in the abdomen, and a thin, lighted tube (laparoscope) is inserted to view the tumor and remove a small amount of tissue.
  • Surgical biopsy: Tissue is removed during an operation.

Getting a second opinion at MD Anderson

The experts at Children’s Cancer Hospital are highly specialized in diagnosing and staging childhood liver cancer. We welcome the opportunity to provide second opinions. If you would like to get a second opinion at MD Anderson, call 877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

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Knowledge Center

Find the latest news and information about childhood liver cancer in our Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos,
news releases and more.