What Is a Liver Biopsy?
A biopsy of
the liver is a medical procedure in which a small amount of liver tissue is
surgically removed so it can be analyzed in the laboratory by a pathologist.
biopsies are usually done to detect the presence of abnormal cells in the
liver, like cancer cells, or to evaluate disease processes such as cirrhosis.
Your doctor may order this test if blood or imaging tests indicate there are
problems with your liver.
The liver is
a vital organ. It produces proteins and enzymes responsible for essential
metabolic processes, removes contaminants from your blood, helps fight
infection, and stores essential vitamins and nutrients. Problems with your
liver can make you very sick or lead to death.
Why a Liver Biopsy Is
may order a biopsy to help determine if an area is infected, inflamed, or
cancerous. Symptoms that a doctor would test for include:
- digestive system issues
- persistent abdominal pain
- right upper quadrant abdominal
- laboratory tests pointing to the
liver as an area of concern
biopsy is usually done if you received abnormal results from other liver tests,
have a tumor or mass on your liver, or suffer from consistent, unexplainable
imaging tests like CT scans and X-rays can help identify areas of concern, they
can’t differentiate between cancerous and noncancerous cells. For this, you
need a biopsy.
biopsies are typically associated with cancer, it doesn’t mean you have cancer
if your doctor orders this test. Biopsies also allow doctors to see if a
condition other than cancer is causing your symptoms.
biopsy can be used to diagnose or monitor a number of liver disorders. Some
conditions that affect the liver and may require a biopsy include:
hepatitis (B or C)
(too much iron in the blood)
fatty liver disease (FLD)
biliary cirrhosis (which leads to scarring on the liver)
sclerosing cholangitis (which affects the liver’s bile ducts)
disease (an inherited and degenerative liver disease caused by excess copper in
The Risks of a Liver Biopsy
procedure that involves breaking the skin carries the risk of infection and
bleeding. The incision for a liver biopsy is small and needle biopsies are less
invasive, so the risk is much lower.
How to Prepare for a Liver Biopsy
don’t require much preparation on the part of the patient. Depending on your
condition, your doctor may ask you to:
a physical examination and complete medical history
taking any medications that affect bleeding, including pain relievers,
anticoagulants, and certain supplements
your blood drawn for a blood test
drink or eat for up to eight hours before the procedure
for someone to drive you home
How a Liver Biopsy Is
the procedure, you’ll change into a hospital gown. Your doctor will give you a
sedative through an intravenous (IV) line to help you relax.
three basic types of liver biopsies.
- Percutaneous: Also called a needle biopsy, this biopsy
involves putting a thin needle through the abdomen and into the liver. The Mayo Clinic states that it’s the most common
type of liver biopsy.
- Transjugular: This procedure involves making a small
incision at the neck. A thin flexible tube is inserted through the neck’s
jugular vein and into the liver. This method is used for people who have
- Laparoscopic: This technique uses tube-like instruments
that collect the sample through a small incision in the abdomen.
The kind of
anesthesia your doctor gives you will depend on which type of liver biopsy they
perform. The percutaneous and transjugular biopsies use local anesthesia,
meaning that only the affected area is numbed. Laparoscopic biopsies require
general anesthesia, so you’ll be in a deep, painless sleep during the
biopsy is complete, any incision wounds will be closed with stitches and
properly bandaged. You will typically have to lie in bed for a few hours after
the procedure while doctors monitor your vital signs.
receive approval from your doctor, you are free to go home. You should take it
easy and rest for the next 24 hours. However, you should be able to get back to
your normal life after a few days.
After a Liver Biopsy
tissue sample is taken, it will be sent to a laboratory for testing. This could
take up to a few weeks.
results are back, your doctor will call you or ask you in for a follow-up
appointment to share the results. Once a diagnosis is reached, your doctor will
discuss any recommend treatment plans or next steps with you.