Biliary hamartomas are part of a group of conditions called fibrocystic liver conditions. They are caused by a problem with the way your liver starts to grow before you are born. This is sometimes called a “ductal plate malformation”.
Because these conditions all have a common cause, some people will have more than one of them. You can find out more about other types of fibrocystic liver disease here.
If you have biliary hamartomas, small cysts form all over your liver before you are born. In adults they are almost always less then 1cm across. Outside these cysts your liver cells will be healthy, and your liver will work as normal. Biliary hamartomas do not block or damage your bile ducts. They are not a type of cancer and will not spread to other parts of your body.
Biliary hamartomas are often found by accident when you have a scan for something else.
They can look like cancer on an ultrasound scan. So, you will have more tests to rule this out and confirm that they are biliary hamartomas.
The best way to diagnose biliary hamartoma is using an MRI scan. And a special type of MRI called an MRCP.
You can find out more about these in the drop-down boxes below.
An ultrasound scan can build up a picture of your liver. The picture can help doctors to see the number and size of your cysts and where they are. It is a simple test and should not hurt. Some gel will be put on your tummy and a wand will use sound waves look at your liver.You can find out more about ultrasound scans here.
An MRI scan uses magnets and radio waves to build up a picture of the inside of your body. It does not use x-rays and is very good at looking at the soft parts of your body, such as your liver.
An MRI scan usually takes about half an hour. The scanner is a tube. You will lie on a bed that moves into the tube. The scanner can be very loud, so you will be asked to wear headphones.
MRCP stands for Magnetic Resonance CholangioPancreatography
It is a type of MRI scan. You will have some pictures taken in the MRI scanner. Some dye will then be injected into your blood using a little tube (a catheter) put into a vein on the back of your hand. You will then have more pictures taken. The dye will help doctors to get a good look at your bile ducts and any cysts that might be there.
An MRCP scan usually takes about 45 minutes.
Biliary hamartomas do not seem to cause any problems so the safest thing to do is just leave them alone. You will not need to be monitored.
Other fibrocystic liver conditions can cause problems. If you have one of these conditions, you might need treatment for it. You can find out more about other fibrocystic liver conditions and how they are treated by following the links here.
You can carry on living your normal life with biliary hamartomas. They will not affect how well your liver works and should not cause any symptoms.
If you start to get any symptoms that might be caused by a liver problem, talk to your GP. Biliary hamartomas will not cause these symptoms. But they can be linked to other conditions that do.
Common symptoms include:
- Feeling full or bloated
- Tummy pain
- Jaundice (a yellow colour to the skin or eyes)
You can find out more about the symptoms of other types of fibrocystic liver disease here.
Diet and biliary hamartomas
You do not need to eat a specific diet if you have biliary hamartomas. There is no evidence that you should eat or avoid any specific foods.
There are no supplements or alternative medicines that have been shown to help with biliary hamartomas. You can find out more about alternative and complimentary medicines here.
Support for you
Biliary hamartomas are not cancer. But when they are first found they can look a bit like cancer on a scan. It can be worrying waiting for more tests to confirm the diagnosis.
You can find out about the support we can offer you here. We have a patient forum that will let you talk to other people in a similar situation. You can also talk to one of our specialist liver nurses by calling our helpline on 0800 652 7330.
Published on 10/08/2023
Review date 10/08/2026