, Volume 29, Issue 6, pp 669-681

Liver metastases in cancer: detection with contrast-enhanced ultrasonography

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Abstract

In patients with known or suspected malignancy, ultrasonography (US) is often the first choice for liver imaging because of its widespread availability and low cost. Compared with contrast-enhanced computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the sensitivity of conventional US for detecting hepatic metastases is relatively poor. The advent of microbubble contrast agents changed this situation. Sensitivity and specificity increased substantially with the use of these contrast agents and contrast-specific imaging modes in recent years. Currently, numerous US imaging methods exist, based on Doppler techniques or harmonic imaging. They exploit the complex nonlinear behavior of microbubbles in a sound field to achieve marked augmentation of the US signal. Although microbubble contrast agents are essentially blood pool agents, some have a hepatosplenic specific late phase. Imaging during this late phase is particularly useful for improving the detection of malignant liver lesions and allows US to perform similarly to spiral CT as shown by recent studies. In addition, this late phase imaging is very helpful for lesion characterization. Low mechanical index imaging with the newer perfluor agents permits real-time imaging of the dynamic contrast behavior during the arterial, portal venous, and late phases and is particularly helpful for lesion characterization. The use of US for hemodynamic studies of the liver transit time may detect blood flow changes induced by micrometastases even before they become visible on imaging. In this field of functional imaging, further research is required to achieve conclusive results, which are not yet available.