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Imaging for the diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma: A systematic review and meta‐analysis

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Multiphasic computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are both used for noninvasive diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in patients with cirrhosis. To determine if there is a relative diagnostic benefit of one over the other, we synthesized evidence regarding the relative performance of CT, extracellular contrast-enhanced MRI, and gadoxetate-enhanced MRI for diagnosis of HCC in patients with cirrhosis. We also assessed whether liver biopsy versus follow-up with the same versus alternative imaging is best for CT-indeterminate or MRI-indeterminate liver nodules in patients with cirrhosis. We searched multiple databases from inception to April 27, 2016, for studies comparing CT with extracellular contrast-enhanced MRI or gadoxetate-enhanced MRI in adults with cirrhosis and suspected HCC. Two reviewers independently selected studies and extracted data. Of 33 included studies, 19 were comprehensive, while 14 reported sensitivity only. For all tumor sizes, the 19 comprehensive comparisons showed significantly higher sensitivity (0.82 versus 0.66) and lower negative likelihood ratio (0.20 versus 0.37) for MRI over CT. The specificities of MRI versus CT (0.91 versus 0.92) and the positive likelihood ratios (8.8 versus 8.1) were not different. All three modalities performed better for HCCs ≥2 cm. Performance was poor for HCCs <1 cm. No studies examined whether adults with cirrhosis and an indeterminate nodule are best evaluated using biopsy, repeated imaging, or alternative imaging. Concerns about publication bias, inconsistent study results, increased risk of bias, and clinical factors precluded support for exclusive use of either gadoxetate-enhanced or extracellular contrast-enhanced MRI over CT.


CT, extracellular contrast-enhanced MRI, or gadoxetate-enhanced MRI could not be definitively preferred for HCC diagnosis in patients with cirrhosis; in patients with cirrhosis and an indeterminate mass, there were insufficient data comparing biopsy to repeat cross-sectional imaging or alternative imaging. (Hepatology 2018;67:401-421).

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