A computed tomography (CT) scan of the liver is a detailed medical imaging study used in situations where a doctor suspects there is damage to the liver such as bleeding or a tumor. Patients should plan on setting aside several hours for the test and may want to arrange a ride home, as sedatives are often used to keep people comfortable while the CT liver scan is performed. Results may be available immediately or in several hours or days, depending on whether someone is available to review the scans.
Patients coming in for a CT liver scan will be asked to remove all their jewelry and change into a hospital gown. If a sedative is being provided, it can be given orally or by injection. In some cases, the scan requires the use of a tracer material to highlight structures in the liver, and this will be given via injection. Allergic reactions to the tracer are rare, but do occur, and patients who notice burning or discomfort should alert the technician administering the test.
Once the patient is prepared, he will be asked to lie on a table so he can be moved into the scanner. Patients need to lie very still during a CT liver scan, as any movement will blur the images. For certain parts of the test, patients may be asked to briefly hold their breath. The scan itself takes only a few minutes. Patients who have difficulty breathing when lying flat or who experience stress in confined spaces should discuss their concerns before the test to see if accommodations are available.
After the CT liver scan, the patient can dress again and may be released. Patients who have had a sedative will need someone to accompany them, as it is not safe for them to drive or take public transit alone. If a tracer dye was used for the scan, it should express naturally in the patient's urine within a few days, and patients may be advised to drink plenty of fluids to help clear the tracer more quickly.
The results of a CT liver scan can vary. In some cases, the scan will be used to identify trauma to the liver and a doctor may recommend immediate surgery to address the problem. With tumors, the scans can be used for cancer staging and will be utilized in treatment planning. Such scans can also be useful as follow ups for cancer treatment, gauging the response of the tumor to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.