Significance of hyperattenuating and contrast-enhancing hepatic nodules detected in the cirrhotic liver during arterial phase helical CT in pre-liver transplant patients: radiologic-histopathologic correlation of explanted livers

Abdom Imaging. 2003 May-Jun;28(3):333-46. doi: 10.1007/s00261-002-0053-z.


Background: Hyperattenuating nodules detected by arterial phase helical computed tomography (HCT) in patients with cirrhosis usually are believed to represent hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs). We correlated HCT morphology of hyperattenuating hepatic nodules detected during arterial phase scans with the histopathology of explanted livers of patients with hepatic cirrhosis undergoing liver transplantation.

Methods: Three hundred fifty-four patients had arterial and portal phase HCT performed before subsequent hepatic transplantation. Each patient received 180 mL of contrast by power injection at 5 mL/s. All hyperattenuating nodules detected on arterial phase HCT were assessed for morphology and evidence for contrast enhancement. Explanted livers in all patients were then sectioned at 10-mm intervals, and the histology of the nodules was correlated with the HCT findings.

Results: Sixty-one hyperattenuating nodules were detected on the arterial phase HCT in 43 patients: 41 nodules were benign regenerating nodules (RN), three were dysplastic nodules (DP), and 17 were HCCs. Most RN/DP nodules were 5-20 mm in diameter, had distinct margins, were homogeneous, and were isoattenuating on precontrast, portal, and delayed scans. Thirty-six showed positive contrast enhancement and displayed a wide range of attenuation profiles. HCC nodules were 6-50 mm. All showed positive contrast enhancement and displayed a wide range of attenuation profiles.

Conclusion: Hyperattenuating nodules seen on arterial phase HCT are likely to be RN/DP nodules. In many cases, it is not possible to distinguish between RN/DP and HCC. Thus, clinical decisions regarding inclusion criteria for transplantation based on CT morphology of liver lesions may be tenuous.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / diagnostic imaging*
  • Contrast Media
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver / pathology*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Liver Regeneration*
  • Liver Transplantation*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Tomography, Spiral Computed*
  • Triiodobenzoic Acids


  • Contrast Media
  • Triiodobenzoic Acids
  • ioversol