What is a Liver Cyst?

A liver cyst is a fluid-filled growth which develops inside the liver. A simple cyst is often the result of abnormalities which occurred during fetal development, and is usually benign. Complex cysts can be signs of underlying disease processes which require medical attention. Many people have benign liver cysts and are unaware of it, with cysts sometimes only being uncovered during medical imaging of the abdomen which is conducted for other reasons.

People with liver cysts can experience symptoms, whether or not the growths are benign. The upper right abdomen may feel painful or uncomfortable, and some patients experience a sensation of fullness in this area. If a patient starts to bleed into the cyst, this usually triggers sharp pain.
In the case of a simple cyst, the cyst may be drained through aspiration, with a needle being inserted into the growth and used to suck out the fluid. However, the cyst often refills, so not all doctors will recommend this procedure. Medical imaging may also be used to monitor the cyst so that suspicious changes can be identified quickly. It is not uncommon for one benign liver cyst to be surrounded by smaller cysts, which are also usually benign.

In a condition known as polycystic liver disease, the liver is covered in numerous cysts, and can look like a cluster of grapes in a medical imaging study. People with polycystic liver disease may not necessarily experience problems, although sometimes the growth of the cysts later in life interferes with liver function or causes pain.

More seriously, a cystic tumor can be caused by liver cancer, which is a cause for concern. Likewise, the liver can also form cysts as a result of parasitic infection. If a liver cyst is identified, followup exams and tests will usually be recommended to learn more about the cyst. These exams are conducted to confirm that the cyst is benign, or to diagnose a malignant cyst so that steps can be taken. Treatments for malignancies can include resection of the liver to remove the diseased area, along with medications which are used to manage to attempt to eliminate the cause of the liver cyst.

Hepatic cysts, as they are sometimes known, may call for treatment from a specialist who works specifically with liver diseases. Some patients find it helpful to see several care providers or to assemble a medical team to make sure that they get the best information and treatment for a liver cyst.