Liver scan

Liver Scan

A liver scan, also called a hepatic scan, is an imaging test to check for problems in your liver. It is used to diagnose and evaluate conditions that produce signs and symptoms like jaundice, abdominal or back pain, or an enlarged liver or spleen.


Your doctor will tell you if any special preparations are needed for a liver scan. Generally, you should not eat or drink anything for several hours prior to the scan.


A liver scan is typically done in a hospital or imaging center. Before the actual scan, a small amount of a radioactive substance is injected into a vein in your arm. This substance accumulates in your liver and allows your doctor to see it more clearly on the scan. After it’s injected, you may be asked to wait in the imaging center for an hour or more to allow the substance to move throughout your body.

Once the substance accumulates in your liver, you’ll be placed on an x-ray table. The radiologist or technician will take a series of x-ray images of your abdomen and back. You may be asked to change positions during the scan to get different angles.


There are several types of liver scans, including:

  • X-ray scan: This scan uses visible light to take photos of your liver.
  • CT scan: A computed tomography scan takes x-ray images from several angles and uses a computer to compile them into a detailed cross-sectional picture of your liver.
  • MRI: This scan produces detailed images of the liver by using magnetic fields and radio waves.
  • Ultrasound: During this test, soundwaves are used to look at the image of your liver.
  • Radioactive tracer scan: In this scan, a small amount of a radioactive substance called a tracer is injected into your body. The tracer accumulates in your liver, allowing the doctor to see it more clearly on the scan.


As with any procedure that involves radiation, there is a risk of radiation exposure from a liver scan. The amount of exposure is usually minimal and is not considered unsafe. However, it’s still important to discuss any potential radiation risks with your doctor before a scan.

Why it's done

A liver scan is used to diagnose or evaluate a wide range of conditions that can affect the liver, including:

  • Liver cancer or tumors
  • Cirrhosis
  • Hepatitis
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Infections in the liver

When it's done

A liver scan may be recommended if you have signs and symptoms of a liver condition. It may also be used to monitor the progress of an existing liver condition or to check for the spread of cancer.