Unusual Primary Neoplasms of the Adult Liver: Review of Imaging Appearances and Differential Diagnosis

Curr Probl Diagn Radiol. 2022 Jan-Feb;51(1):73-85. doi: 10.1067/j.cpradiol.2020.10.001. Epub 2020 Nov 2.


The radiological appearance of common primary hepatic tumors such as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) is widely recognized. Hepatic masses with unusual histology are occasionally encountered, but seldom suspected on imaging. However, many possess characteristic imaging findings, which when assessed along with the clinical and demographic background and serum tumor markers, may enable a prospective diagnosis. This review attempts to familiarize the reader with the clinicopathological characteristics, imaging manifestations, and differential diagnosis of these unusual liver tumors in adults. Biphenotypic primary liver carcinoma is suspected in masses showing distinct areas of HCC and CCA-type enhancement pattern in cirrhotic livers. Fibrolamellar carcinoma occurs in young individuals without underlying chronic liver disease and shows a characteristic T2-hypointense scar frequently showing calcification. Perivascular epithelioid cell tumors are differentials for any arterial hyperenhancing mass in the noncirrhotic liver, particularly in patients with tuberous sclerosis. Multifocal subcapsular tumors showing target-like morphology, capsular retraction and "lollipop" sign are suspicious for epithelioid hemangioendothelioma. On the other hand, multiple hemorrhagic lesions showing patchy areas of bizarre-shaped arterial phase hyperenhancement are suspicious for angiosarcoma. Primary hepatic lymphoma (PHL) is suspected when patients with immunosuppression present with solitary or multifocal masses that insinuate around vessels and bile ducts without causing luminal narrowing. Intense diffusion restriction and low-level homogeneous or target-like enhancement are also ancillary features of PHL. Primary hepatic neuroendocrine tumor shows uptake on Ga-68 DOTANOC PET/CT. Although a straightforward diagnosis may be difficult in these cases, awareness of the characteristic imaging appearances is helpful in suspecting the diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Gallium Radioisotopes
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms* / diagnostic imaging
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Positron Emission Tomography Computed Tomography
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Gallium Radioisotopes
  • Gallium-68