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Liver Biopsy

Liver Biopsy Procedures

Liver Biopsy Procedures Description

A liver biopsy is a procedure in which tissue samples from the liver are removed for examination under a microscope to look for signs of damage or disease. It is used to diagnose many liver conditions. During a liver biopsy procedure, tissue samples are removed with a special needle to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present or to determine how well the liver is working.

There are three types of liver biopsies:

  • Percutaneous or needle biopsy — After a local anesthetic is given, the physician inserts the special biopsy needle into the liver to obtain a sample. Ultrasonography or fluoroscopy (a type of x-ray "movie") may be used to guide the biopsy needle insertion. Most liver biopsies are performed using this technique.
  • Laparoscopic or open biopsy — After a general anesthetic is given, the physician makes an incision in the skin and surgically removes a piece of the liver. Depending upon the lab findings after the liver biopsy, further surgery may be performed.
  • Transvenous biopsy — After a local anesthetic is given, the physician makes an incision into a vein on one side of the neck and inserts a specially designed hollow tube called a sheath through the vein down to the liver. One or more tissue samples are removed through the tube.

If your physician wants to sample a specific area of the liver, the liver biopsy may be performed in the radiology department, guided by ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI, a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies and a computer) or computed tomography (CT scan, a combination of x-rays and computer technology).

Reasons for a Liver Biopsy Procedure

A liver biopsy procedure is useful to diagnose conditions of the liver that cannot be determined by symptoms or lab tests. When a person has an enlarged liver, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes due to bile pigments in the blood) or abnormal lab tests that suggest liver disease, a liver biopsy may be done.

A liver biopsy may be performed to diagnose:

  • Hepatitis — Inflammation of the liver that sometimes causes permanent damage, resulting from viruses, drugs, alcohol, or parasites
  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Liver tumor — An abnormal lump or mass of tissue. Tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous)
  • Fatty liver — Buildup of fat in liver cells
  • Fibrosis of the liver — The growth of scar tissue due to infection, inflammation, injury or even healing