A person with symptoms of a liver problem may need to undergo a liver biopsy to determine the cause. A doctor can then make treatment recommendations based on the liver biopsy results.
Liver biopsies can check for a wide range of conditions affecting this organ. There are different types of liver biopsy, but they all involve taking a tissue sample for analysis. If the results do not provide a clear diagnosis, additional tests may be necessary.
This article looks at liver biopsies in more detail, including what the procedure involves, how long the results take, and what they mean. It also discusses the treatment options for conditions affecting the liver.
A liver biopsy is a medical procedure in which a doctor takes a sample of liver tissue. They then give the sample to a pathologist, who analyses it for indications of damage or disease.
A doctor may order a liver biopsy if a person is experiencing symptoms and other diagnostic tests, such as blood tests or an ultrasound scan, indicate a liver problem.
The person may present with various symptoms, including:
The results can come back within
It is best to ask a healthcare professional when to expect the results, as this may differ depending on the hospital.
However, if the biopsy results are inconclusive, a doctor may order another biopsy. In this case, the results will take longer than expected.
Receiving the results
Once a doctor receives the results from the lab, they will contact the person to discuss the findings and the next steps.
They may review the results over the phone or schedule an appointment in person. A doctor will explain the results and what they mean and ask the person whether they have any questions.
Depending on what the results show, the doctor may then discuss the treatment options or additional testing.
What do the results mean?
A pathologist will examine the tissue sample from the liver. If they see signs of damage or disease, this could indicate problems such as liver disease, cancer, fatty liver disease, or cirrhosis.
In this case, a person may need further testing to investigate the severity of the disease or damage.
If the pathologist finds no signs of damage, the doctor may recommend additional testing to determine the cause of the person’s symptoms.
A liver biopsy is a procedure that doctors use to assess the health of a person’s liver. They may use it to check for several conditions, including liver disease and liver cancer.
- Percutaneous: A doctor will insert a long needle through the abdomen into the liver to take a tissue sample.
- Transjugular: This involves inserting tubing and a biopsy needle into a jugular vein in the neck to reach the liver and take a tissue sample.
- Surgical: A doctor will perform open or laparoscopic surgery to take a tissue sample from the liver.
A doctor may use a liver biopsy to check for signs of damage or disease in the liver.
They can also use a biopsy for other purposes,
- assessing how well a person responds to treatment
- checking the extent of damage to the liver or the severity of the disease
- guiding treatment decisions
- confirming a diagnosis following other testing
Some of the conditions that a liver biopsy can check for include:
- cancer or tumor growth
- fibrosis of the liver
- fatty liver disease
- alcohol-related liver disease
- autoimmune disease
The treatment options will vary depending on the condition affecting the liver.
If liver cancer is present, a doctor
- liver surgery to remove a tumor
- a liver transplant
- chemotherapy or other systemic treatments if the cancer has spread
Learn more about liver cancer.
Fibrosis of the liver and fatty liver disease
Fibrosis is a buildup of scar tissue on the liver that may result from fatty liver disease or other conditions.
Fatty liver disease may be the result of too much alcohol consumption or an accumulation of fat on the internal organs.
Treatment for both conditions may involve:
- managing cholesterol and diabetes
- making changes to the diet
- taking anti-inflammatory medications
- taking medications for insulin resistance
- losing weight, if a person has a high body mass index (BMI)
- refraining from drinking alcohol
- exercising regularly
Learn more about fatty liver disease.
Hepatitis is the term for inflammation of the liver.
For both hepatitis A and hepatitis B, vaccinations are available that can help prevent infection.
Treatments for hepatitis can include:
- antiviral medications
- symptom management
Learn more about other types of hepatitis.
A person’s outlook will vary greatly depending on the condition affecting their liver and other factors, such as:
- overall health
- the severity of the disease or damage to the liver
Regardless of the cause of the symptoms, an early diagnosis generally leads to a more positive outcome. For this reason, it is best to speak with a doctor as soon as possible when symptoms appear.
Liver cancer survival rates are relatively low. The
- Local: 35%
- Regional: 12%
- Distant: 3%
- Combined stages: 20%
These percentages show how likely a person with liver cancer is to be alive 5 years after the initial diagnosis compared with people without the disease. A person’s age, overall health, and other factors may influence their outlook.
Fibrosis of the liver and fatty liver disease
Both conditions can progress over time and get worse. In many cases, lifestyle changes and medications can slow the progression of these conditions.
The outlook for people with hepatitis
Hepatitis B and C can become chronic conditions that may require lifelong management. They can also both lead to liver damage and cancer development.
In rare cases, hepatitis A can be fatal.
A liver biopsy can show a doctor whether a person’s liver has sustained any damage.
It can also help diagnose different conditions that affect the liver, such as infections and cancer.
Liver biopsy results allow the doctor to grade the severity of damage or disease in the liver and suggest treatment options.
Once the results of the biopsy come back, a doctor will review them with the person and recommend the next steps.