• alphafetoprotein;
  • microscopic features;
  • small hepatocellular carcinoma;
  • ultrasound pattern

Abstract: Purpose: To determine the frequencies of various echogenicity patterns in 153 consecutive unifocal hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs) <2 cm detected in cirrhotic livers and to identify their relationships with clinical, laboratory, and microscopic features.

Patients and methods: The tumors were classified as hypoechoic, hyperechoic, isoechoic, or nodule-in-nodule. Correlation was evaluated between hypoechoic and hyperechoic patterns and the following variables: age, gender, serum alphafetoprotein (AFP), tumor size, ultrasound features of liver parenchyma, cirrhosis etiology, and cyto/histological tumor grading.

Results: One hundred and seventeen tumors (76.4%) were hypoechoic, 26 (17.0%) were hyperechoic, 5 (3.3%) were isoechoic, and 5 (3.3%) had nodule-in-nodule patterns. The hyperechoic pattern was more common in patients under 69 years (25.0% vs. 11.3% in those under 69 years or older, P=0.033). Patients with a hyperechoic pattern displayed a trend towards lower AFP levels and higher prevalence of hepatitis C-related cirrhosis. The prevalence of well-differentiated tumors was identical (56.6% and 56.5%) in the hypoechoic and hyperechoic subgroups. AFP was higher than 400 ng/ml in only 11/153 cases (7.2%).

Conclusions: The hyperechoic pattern of HCC is by no means uncommon, particularly in patients under 70. Hyperechogenicity is not related to an increased frequency of well-differentiated tumors. AFP shows limited value as a confirmatory test of small HCC.