MR imaging of intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma with pathologic correlation

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2001 Jun;176(6):1499-507. doi: 10.2214/ajr.176.6.1761499.


Objective: The objective of this study was to determine the MR imaging features of intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma.

Materials and methods: MR images of 50 patients with pathologically proven intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma were reviewed retrospectively. T1- and T2-weighted spin-echo images were obtained in all patients. Contrast-enhanced T1-weighted imaging was performed in 25 patients. Signal intensity and enhancement pattern of the tumors were correlated with pathology findings. The frequency of central hypointense regions on T2-weighted images and the intrahepatic bile duct dilatation of several other hepatic tumor types were investigated. Results were compared with imaging results of cholangiocarcinoma.

Results: On T2-weighted images, central hypo- and hyperintense regions were detected in tumors in 27 and 17 patients, respectively. Contrast-enhanced T1-weighted imaging revealed central hypointense areas exhibiting homogeneous, heterogeneous, and no enhancement in six, three, and five, respectively, of 14 patients. Regions of fibrosis displayed enhancement, whereas those of coagulative necrosis showed no enhancement. The signal intensity difference on T2-weighted images between the center and the edge of the tumor correlated well with the fibrotic ratio difference between those two areas corresponding to the MR image (Spearman's rank correlation test, r = 0.72, 95% confidence interval = 0.48-0.86). T2-weighted images revealed central hypointense regions in 16 of 34 instances of hepatic colorectal metastases. However, hypointensity was observed in only 26 of 234 other hepatic tumors. Intrahepatic bile duct dilatation was evident in 27 of 50 cases of cholangiocarcinoma but occurred in only a single case of 34 instances of hepatic colorectal metastases.

Conclusion: The combination of the signal intensity on T2-weighted images and the enhancement pattern on contrast-enhanced T1-weighted images showed good correlation with the pathologic findings of cholangiocarcinoma. The occurrence of a central hypointense area on T2-weighted images is not pathognomonic; however, this finding, which reflects severe fibrosis, appears to be a characteristic marker of intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma. The presence of intrahepatic bile duct dilatation may indicate cholangiocarcinoma, although it is difficult to differentiate cholangiocarcinoma from hepatic colorectal metastasis.

MeSH terms

  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Bile Ducts, Intrahepatic / pathology*
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / pathology*
  • Contrast Media
  • Female
  • Gadolinium DTPA
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Contrast Media
  • Gadolinium DTPA