Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be an effective tool for diagnosing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), according to a study published in JAMA Oncology.1

The 5-year survival rate of HCC is lower than 20%, and early diagnosis is essential for the possibility of a cure. Ultrasonography (US) is recommended every 6 months for those at risk of developing HCC, such as patients with cirrhosis. The accuracy of US is, however, low.

Four hundred and twenty-three patients at risk of HCC consented to be screened using both US and MRI. Within 3 rounds of screening, 38 patients were diagnosed with HCC. Twenty-six were diagnosed with MRI only, 1 was diagnosed with US only, and 11 were diagnosed with both. Five patients were diagnosed with computerized tomography (CT) scan 6 months after the third screening.

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Forty-two of the 43 total diagnosed patients had either very early or early stage disease; the 1 patient with advanced disease was diagnosed by both US and MRI in the first screening.

The study’s authors conclude that patients at high risk of developing HCC should be screened with MRI rather than US, though the additional costs of MRI screening should be considered for low-risk patients.


  1. Kim SY, An J, Lim YS, et al. MRI with liver-specific contrast for surveillance of patients with cirrhosis at high risk of hepatocellular carcinoma. JAMA Oncol. 2016 Sep 22. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.3147 [Epub ahead of print]