Background: Increased detection of nodular lesions that have not yet been definitively diagnosed as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has occured with the use of advanced imaging techniques. In heavy drinkers, the differential diagnosis between a hyperplastic nodule and early HCC on the basis of results of fine-needle biopsy is often difficult. Negation of diagnosis of HCC after surgical resection has been reported, and nodular lesions have been found to decrease during follow-up observation. On the basis of findings, a suitable strategy for the management of such lesions is suggested.
Methods: We identified six patients who had hepatic nodular lesions on ultrasonography and were heavy drinkers. This group included five men and one woman with a mean age of 45.3 ± 3.8 years. Two patients had solitary lesions; four had multiple lesions, and of these, two were hepatitis C virus antibody positive (C+). In the five men, the nodular lesions were detected during hospitalization for ruptured or prophylactic treatment of gastroesophageal varices.
Results: Five of the six patients had hypervascular lesions characterized by increased hepatic artery blood flow. However, dynamic computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging studies during late-phase imaging could not confirm any decrease in portal blood flow. HCC was diagnosed by detailed imaging studies and liver biopsy in one C+ patient with a solitary nodule. In two of the other four patients, imaging findings were compatible with hypervascular HCC. Findings on liver biopsy do not always permit an easy differential diagnosis between a regenerative lesion (hyperplastic nodule) and a dysplastic or neoplastic lesion. One patient with a hypovascular lesion was C+, and liver biopsy showed a dysplastic nodule.
Conclusion: Heavy drinkers with alcoholic liver disease often develop hypervascular, hyperplastic nodules. The accurate diagnosis of these nodules requires careful consideration of clinical factors, including a combination of images and histologic examination. However, some cases were still difficult to distinguish between HCC by applying advanced imaging techniques and biopsy results.