Liver Masses: A Clinical, Radiologic, and Pathologic Perspective

Sudhakar K. Venkatesh; Vishal Chandan; Lewis R. Roberts


Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014;12(9):1414-1429. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Liver masses present a relatively common clinical dilemma, particularly with the increasing use of various imaging modalities in the diagnosis of abdominal and other symptoms. The accurate and reliable determination of the nature of the liver mass is critical, not only to reassure individuals with benign lesions but also, and perhaps more importantly, to ensure that malignant lesions are diagnosed correctly. This avoids the devastating consequences of missed diagnosis and the delayed treatment of malignancy or the unnecessary treatment of benign lesions. With appropriate interpretation of the clinical history and physical examination, and the judicious use of laboratory and imaging studies, the majority of liver masses can be characterized noninvasively. Accurate characterization of liver masses by cross-sectional imaging is particularly dependent on an understanding of the unique phasic vascular perfusion of the liver and the characteristic behaviors of different lesions during multiphasic contrast imaging. When noninvasive characterization is indeterminate, a liver biopsy may be necessary for definitive diagnosis. Standard histologic examination usually is complemented by immunohistochemical analysis of protein biomarkers. Accurate diagnosis allows the appropriate selection of optimal management, which is frequently reassurance or intermittent follow-up evaluations for benign masses. For malignant lesions or those at risk of malignant transformation, management depends on the tumor staging, the functional status of the uninvolved liver, and technical surgical considerations. Unresectable metastatic masses require oncologic consultation and therapy. The efficient characterization and management of liver masses therefore requires a multidisciplinary collaboration between the gastroenterologist/hepatologist, radiologist, pathologist, hepatobiliary or transplant surgeon, and medical oncologist.


It is helpful to subclassify lesions into 3 clinical categories. First, there are benign mass lesions for which no treatment is needed; second, there are benign mass lesions for which treatment is required; and, third, there are malignant mass lesions for which treatment is always required if feasible (Table 1).[1]