A liver cyst is a small area in the liver which will either look like a thin bubble, or will be similar to a small depression. A cyst may be filled with fluid, or it can be empty. There are a number of different causes of liver cysts, but many of them are not serious and will not affect the patient's life. However, in some cases a liver cyst can cause pain and obstruction of the bile ducts. In addition, cysts that are caused by bacterial or parasitic infection can rupture, leading to the bacteria or parasite spreading throughout the abdomen.
In general, liver cysts do not need to be treated. While the cysts are at risk for infection or for blocking hepatic ducts, until they cause any symptoms there is generally no need to treat them in any way. In general, liver cysts that aren't causing symptoms will be diagnosed by an MRI or CT scan but can be left alone.
Cysts Caused by Parasites
Some liver cysts are the result of infection by certain parasites, such as echinococcus organisms. These are small worms that preferentially live in the liver and must be killed off before any other treatment is given. For a liver cyst caused by parasitic infections, the first course of treatment is to inject ethanol into the liver cyst to kill off the parasites.
In the event that a liver cyst is causing symptoms (such as blocking off a bile duct or obstructing blood flow), the cyst will need to be removed. Surgical removal of a liver cyst is relatively simple, as the surgeon will remove the affected area. Because the liver is able to regenerate, the organ should heal relatively quickly.
Sometimes a liver cyst is the result of a bacterial infection. In these instances, antibiotics, such as ampicillin and tetracycline will often be orally given for four weeks in an attempt to combat the infection. If this treatment does not work, the cysts may need to be surgically removed.
In some cases it may be difficult to distinguish between a liver cyst and liver cancer on an MRI. If there is a possibility that the cyst is actually a result of a tumour, the surgeon will obtain a biopsy of the area. This biopsied tissue can be visualised under a microscope to make sure that it is just a cyst and not something more serious.