Screening involves looking for a condition in people that are at higher risk of developing it. In people with cirrhosis, screening can be recommended to help find and treat a new condition that came about because of the cirrhosis. The goal of screening is to find a condition in an early stage, to help improve response to treatment, or to try and prevent worse complications from developing.
The decision to screen for conditions is usually guided by your risk of developing the condition and whether or not you would be able to tolerate the treatment if the condition was found. Below are 3 common things people with cirrhosis are screened for. Talk with your healthcare provider to decide if screening is recommended for you.
Just like a person with skin damage from the sun has a higher risk of skin cancer, liver damage also puts you at a higher risk for liver cancer, called Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC). Regular screening tests can help your healthcare team watch for changes in your liver. There may be no signs of liver cancer until the cancer has grown very large and causes pain, so screening can be very useful.
Screening for liver cancer is usually done with an ultrasound every 6 months. Sometimes a special tumor marker blood test called AFP might also be recommended every 6 months. If these tests show areas of concern, your healthcare provider might order a CT scan or MRI.
Varices are enlarged veins, most commonly in the esophagus (food pipe). Over time varices can get bigger and burst open, causing life-threatening bleeding. Finding varices early can be really useful because you can receive treatment to prevent bleeding before it happens.
Screening for varices involves having an upper endoscopy (gastroscopy) procedure where your doctor inserts a camera through your mouth, down your esophagus and into your stomach to look for enlarged veins.
When you have cirrhosis, your healthcare team will monitor you for signs of decompensation, like development of ascites (fluid build up in the abdomen) or encephalopathy (confusion or memory problems).
Even if you haven’t experienced any symptoms of decompensation, you should know what they are and what to do if you develop symptoms. Symptoms can develop between follow up appointments with your healthcare team, so it is important you know what to watch for so you can get help if new symptoms develop.