Purpose: The purpose of this work was to evaluate the detection and characterization of nodules > or = 8 mm and small hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs) in liver cirrhosis.
Method: Pathologic examination and results of US, helical CT, and dynamic MRI with gadolinium were compared after orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) of 43 cirrhotic patients. Nodules were classified as macroregenerative nodules (MRNs), borderline nodules (BNs), and HCC.
Results: Pathologic examination classified 69 nodules: 50 MRNs, 6 BNs, and 13 HCCs. Sensitivities of MRN, BN, and HCC detection were, respectively, for US imaging 2% (1/50), 33.3% (2/6), and 46.2% (6/13); for helical CT 2% (1/50), 50% (3/6), and 53.8% (7/13); and for MRI 42% (21/50), 50% (3/6), and 76.9% (10/13). MRI detected 21 MRNs. They presented on T1/T2-weighted images as hyperintense/hypointense (n = 8), hyperintense/isointense (n = 7), hypointense/hypointense (n = 4), hypointense/isointense (n = 1), and hypointense depicted only on echo planar imaging (n = 1). The three detected BNs were hyperintense/hypointense nodules. The 10 detected HCCs appeared hyperintense/isointense (n = 7), hyperintense/hypointense (n = 2), and hypointense/isointense (n = 1). None of the MRNs but eight HCCs and one BN were enhanced after gadolinium injection.
Conclusion: Contrast-enhanced MRI is the most sensitive technique for detecting liver nodules. No MR signal intensity pattern characteristic of small HCCs enables differentiation from benign nodules, however. Gadolinium enhancement is the most sensitive and specific characteristic of HCC.