MR imaging of hepatocellular carcinoma in the cirrhotic liver: Challenges and controversies

Jonathon M. Willatt, Hero K. Hussain, Saroja Adusumilli, Jorge A. Marrero

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

296 Scopus citations


The incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is expected to increase in the next 2 decades, largely due to hepatitis C infection and secondary cirrhosis. HCC is being detected at an earlier stage owing to the implementation of screening programs. Biopsy is no longer required prior to treatment, and diagnosis of HCC is heavily dependent on imaging characteristics. The most recent recommendations by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) state that a diagnosis of HCC can be made if a mass larger than 2 cm shows typical features of HCC (hypervascularity in the arterial phase and washout in the venous phase) at contrast material-enhanced computed tomography or magnetic resonance (MR) imaging or if a mass measuring 1-2 cm shows these features at both modalities. There is an ever-increasing demand on radiologists to detect smaller tumors, when curative therapies are most effective. However, the major difficulty in imaging cirrhosis is the characterization of hypervascular nodules smaller than 2 cm, which often have nonspecific imaging characteristics. The authors present a review of the MR imaging and pathologic features of regenerative nodules and dysplastic nodules and focus on HCC in the cirrhotic liver, with particular reference to small tumors and lesions that may mimic HCC. The authors also review the sensitivity of MR imaging for the detection of these tumors and discuss the staging of HCC and the treatment options in the context of the guidelines of the AASLD and the imaging criteria required by the United Network for Organ Sharing for transplantation. MR findings following ablation and chemoembolization are also reviewed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-330
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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