Superparamagnetic iron oxide–enhanced magnetic resonance images of hepatocellular carcinoma: Correlation with histological grading



Superparamagnetic iron oxide (SPIO)–enhanced magnetic resonance (MR) imaging has been used for the detection of hepatic tumors. However, little is known about this technique in relation to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The aim of this study was to investigate whether SPIO–enhanced MR imaging can be useful in assessing histological grades of HCC. The authors studied histologically proven tumors including 31 HCCs and 6 dysplastic nodules. The ratio of the Kupffer-cell count in the tumorous tissue relative to that in the nontumorous tissue (Kupffer-cell–count ratio) decreased as HCCs became less well differentiated. The ratio of the intensity of the tumorous lesion to that of the nontumorous area on SPIO–enhanced MR images (SPIO intensity ratio) correlated inversely with Kupffer-cell–count ratio in HCCs and dysplastic nodules (r = −.826, P< .001) and increased as the degree of differentiation of HCCs decreased, indicating that the uptake of SPIO in HCCs decreased as the degree of differentiation of HCCs declined. All of the dysplastic nodules and some well-differentiated HCCs showed hypointense or isointense enhancement, relative to the surrounding liver parenchyma, indicating greater or similar uptake of SPIO in the tumor when compared with nontumorous areas. These results suggest that SPIO–enhanced MR imaging reflects Kupffer-cell numbers in HCCs and dysplastic nodules, and is useful for estimation of histological grading in HCCs, although uncertainties persist in differentiating dysplastic nodules from well-differentiated HCCs.