Small hepatic nodules in cirrhosis: ultrasonographic, CT, and MR imaging findings

Abdom Imaging. Jan-Feb 1999;24(1):47-55. doi: 10.1007/s002619900439.


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to assess the imaging findings of pathologically-proved small hepatic nodules 2 cm in size or smaller detected with ultrasonography in cirrhotic patients with suspected hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

Materials and methods: We evaluated sonographically detected 32 small hepatic nodules which were pathologically confirmed in 23 consecutive cirrhotic patients who were suspected of having HCC. Twenty-six lesions were confirmed with ultrasonographically-guided aspiration needle-core biopsy, and six with definitive surgery. Ultrasonographic examination records were retrospectively reviewed. CT, and MR images obtained with various imaging techniques were retrospectively reviewed by two radiologists in a blind fashion.

Results: The 32 hepatic nodules were comprised of seven focal fatty changes, two large regenerative nodules, three low-grade dysplastic nodules, five high-grade dysplastic nodules, and fifteen HCCs. Ultrasonography showed various echogenicity for the hepatic nodules. The signal-intensity characteristics with T1-weighted spin-echo, in-phase gradient-recalled-echo, and dynamic MR imagings may be useful in distinguishing HCC from nonHCC nodules.

Conclusions: Nearly half of small hepatic nodules detected with ultrasonography were nonHCC nodules. Ultrasonographic findings may not be reliable in characterizing small hepatic nodules in cirrhosis. CT and MR imaging obtained with the various techniques are still insensitive to these hepatic nodules.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Fatty Liver / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver / pathology*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / diagnosis*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Ultrasonography, Interventional