BACKGROUND & AIMS:
Current diagnostic imaging criteria for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) are dedicated to imaging with nonspecific extracellular contrast agents. This study aimed to evaluate diagnostic criteria for HCC ⩽3cm on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with a hepatocyte-specific contrast agent through an inception cohort study.
Of 291 patients with chronic liver disease and new nodules of 1-3cm in diameter at surveillance ultrasonography, 295 solid nodules (194 HCCs, 98 benign nodules, and three other malignancies) in 198 patients with a confirmed final diagnosis or ⩾24months follow-up were evaluated on gadoxetic acid-enhanced MRI. Through univariate and multivariate logistic regression analyses, various diagnostic criteria were developed by combining significant MRI findings for diagnosing HCC. The diagnostic performance of each criterion was compared with that of the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) criteria.
Four MRI findings (arterial-phase hyperintensity, transitional-phase hypointensity, hepatobiliary-phase hypointensity, and rim enhancement) were independently significant for diagnosis of HCC ⩽3cm. For whole nodules, EASL criteria showed the best performance for diagnosing HCC (sensitivity, 83.5%; specificity, 81.2%). For nodules ⩽2cm in diameter, a new criterion (arterial-phase hyperintensity and hepatobiliary-phase hypointensity) showed a significantly higher sensitivity than that of the EASL criteria (83.0% vs. 74.5%, p=0.008), without a significantly different specificity (76.7% vs. 81.1%, p=0.125).
EASL criteria exhibit the best diagnostic performance for HCC ⩽3cm on hepatocyte-specific contrast-enhanced MRI. A newly identified criterion (arterial-phase hyperintensity and hepatobiliary-phase hypointensity) may increase the diagnostic sensitivity of small (⩽2cm) HCC.