What Is a Liver Nodule?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A liver nodule is a growth inside the liver comprised of hepatocytes, the cells that make up liver tissue. Nodules may be malignant or benign, and a doctor may recommend testing if she identifies a liver nodule, to allow her to determine whether it is a cause for medical concern. Often, they are an incidental finding in a patient receiving an evaluation for an unrelated medical issue, or after death, when a liver nodule may appear in an otherwise healthy liver in a patient who died of other causes.

If a doctor identifies a liver nodule, which is  a growth inside the liver, he may request to do more tests to determine if it is malignant or benign.
If a doctor identifies a liver nodule, which is a growth inside the liver, he may request to do more tests to determine if it is malignant or benign.

Pathologists divide liver nodules into two broad groups. One group contains the regenerative nodules, made up of growths of normal hepatocytes that simply grow excessively. Neoplastic, or dysplastic, nodules contain abnormal hepatocytes that begin to proliferate. The nodules can vary in size, and the liver may be studded with a mixture of nodules as part of a disease process.

A biopsy must be complete before a doctor can determine the best course of action for treating a liver nodule.
A biopsy must be complete before a doctor can determine the best course of action for treating a liver nodule.

Some liver nodules are entirely benign, and appear more commonly in patients on birth control and certain other medications. The growths will not develop to a size that could pose health risks by blocking blood vessels, and they will not metastasize to other organs. Other nodules are a cause for concern because of their potentially large size and aggressive nature. Malignant nodules are usually dysplastic in nature.

Nodules in the liver can be malignant or benign.
Nodules in the liver can be malignant or benign.

A doctor may identify a liver nodule in surgery or on an ultrasound. He can take a sample of the growth and ask a pathologist to examine it. The pathologist will check for signs of cellular abnormalities and determine whether it is a health risk. The doctor may recommend surgery or other treatments to manage the nodule. If the patient is already in treatment for cirrhosis or other liver diseases, nodules may not be an unexpected finding. The treatment can address the nodules and make the patient feel more comfortable.

A doctor may be able to identify a liver nodule on an ultrasound.
A doctor may be able to identify a liver nodule on an ultrasound.

If a doctor identifies a liver nodule, the patient can ask for more information about it. Until a biopsy can take place, the doctor may not be able to speculate about the nature of the nodule or the best treatment options. After examination of the tissue, the doctor can talk about how to move forward with treatment if the nodule is a cause for concern. In patients with benign growths, the doctor may recommend periodic followups to check for changes, as a benign growth can turn harmful. Catching malignancies early can provide access to more treatment options.

A pathologist can check for signs of cellular abnormalities in a liver nodule.
A pathologist can check for signs of cellular abnormalities in a liver nodule.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I have dealt with the medical field all my adult life. Doctors make mistakes all the time. Some are better than others at covering it up. Sometimes their mistakes don't cause problems, but they all make mistakes. Think about it-- many doctors are drug abusers and alcoholics. Never put 100 percent faith in the docs. Listen to your instincts, always.


An X-ray will not show a nodule. You must have an ultrasound. I went had a ultra sound and a nodule showed up. My doctor has ordered a CT scan. He also told me when this happens it's little vessels that get together and form the nodule.


I just got advised that I have a fatty liver with a small nodule. I'm seeing a GI specialist for the fatty liver and the doc seems OK with the nodule. He says it is most likely in relation to the fatty liver. After reading above, I might rethink that.


Liver nodules have two types: "macro" and "micro." The former's diameter is approximately over 3-5mm and the other's diameter is less than that. And it's thought that cause of a micro-nodule is chronic alcoholism and cause of a macro-nodule can be other things.


My husband has just been told he has a nodule on his liver. His white cell count has been low for some time now, and the doctor just said to do more blood work. Should I worry about him? He doesn't know I looked it up.


@stl156 - I think that there should be little debate as far as having the biopsy when a liver nodule is found.

I have heard that it is not anywhere near as expensive as people think it is and that it is worth the money to be sure that there is not a cancer risk there.

Liver cancer is definitely something that someone does not want to have and although it is treatable it is a very painful cancer to have and if a large portion of the liver has to be removed it causes the person to lose the effectiveness of some of their bodily functions, due to having a large portion of their liver missing.

In the end having the biopsy is worth it, just to see if the cancer risk is there and if it is there it can be removed on the spot, very early.


@JimmyT - You are absolutely correct. As far as liver cancer is concerned the only way to really correct liver cancer is to remove the part of the liver that is affected.

Now, say this is found very early through a biopsy on a liver nodule, the small area can be simply removed, in a not so complicated medical procedure and the person affected has little to worry about.

Now say that someone does not go through with the biopsy when a liver nodule is found they run the risk of having cancer spread and them having to remove a large portion of the liver in order to stop the spread and total failure of the liver.

So, in reality there is not reason not to go ahead and have the biopsy if a liver nodule is found, because if cancer is found only a tiny portion will be removed as opposed to a massive portion if the person catches cancer later on.


@Emilski - I absolutely agree with you. The procedure for a biopsy to see if someone has a tumor or a nodule is quite simple and not a really big deal as far as medical procedures go.

It is important that if someone finds a nodule on their liver that they go ahead and see if it is something of major concern.

Liver cancer is something that is not at all easy to correct and if it is caught early then things can be done to prevent its spread.

A Liver nodule may be an indication of it, but the only way to tell is if it is looked at through a biopsy and the doctor can determine the next course of action to take.


Anytime that someone sees a nodule on their liver it is best to go ahead and go through with the biopsy.

I know several people who have had either a tumor or some type of nodule in their body and they were deciding whether or not to go ahead with the biopsy to see whether it is malignant or benign.

Believe it or not some of these people will assume that the tumor or nodule is benign and not even go ahead with the biopsy, they will just go ahead and assume the percentage that the doctor gives of it being benign is right.

Anyone that has a tumor or a nodule, especially on something as important as the liver, should get it checked out. It probably will not be anything of concern, but if it is something serious it has to be caught early in order to make sure that the problem is dealt with before it becomes a major concern.


@vogueknit17- I think that some people just get nodules on the liver, just like some people just get cysts and things like that. The worst happened to my neighbor, though. He had surgery because one doctor thought he had liver cancer nodules. The doctor who performed the surgery couldn't even find anything on his liver at all, though- it turned out that the first doctor had been looking at the x rays wrong, or something. Even doctors can make mistakes, I guess.


I had a liver nodule, but when my doctor performed a biopsy it turned out to be nothing. It took awhile to get the results back, though, and that was pretty painful in itself- sometimes waiting and wondering is more difficult for me than actually knowing something is wrong.

Post your comments
Forgot password?