Objective: Accurate histological diagnosis and subtyping of hepatocellular carcinoma (hepatoma) is likely to be enhanced if a large biopsy tissue specimen is made available to the pathologist. However biopsy of this tumour can be dangerous, especially if the liver is cirrhotic and the lesion is superficial. This study evaluates the safety of an 18 gauge spring loaded side-cutting needle in the percutaneous biopsy of hepatoma in cirrhotic patients under ultrasonographic (US) guidance. Particular attention was paid to establishing the necessary length of needle track through interposing liver parenchyma to be certain of maximum safety.
Materials and methods: One hundred and thirty-nine consecutive biopsy procedures were performed on 129 hepatomas which belonged to 113 men and 12 women of average age 57 +/- 15 years old (median 60, range 8 months-88 years). Ninety-six (69.1%) of these biopsies were performed in cirrhotic livers. The length of biopsy needle track traversing interposing liver parenchyma was less than 1 cm in two cases, 1 cm in 41 cases, between 1 and 2 cm in 46 cases and > 2 cm in 50 cases. The mean tumour size was 7.2 +/- 4.5 cm (median 6.8 cm, range 0.7-25 cm). The average number of needle pass in each biopsy was 2.1 +/- 0.8 times (median 2, range 1-5).
Results: One hundred and twenty-six (90.6%) of the biopsy procedures were diagnostic of hepatoma. There were two cases of post-biopsy bleeding, both occurred in procedures with an interposing liver parenchymal track less than 1 cm in length.
Conclusion: The biopsy technique described was found to be safe for diagnosing hepatoma in patients with or without liver cirrhosis provided that the length of interposing liver parenchymal track is not < 1 cm.