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October 14, 2020 — Journal of Hepatology


Background & Aims

CT may miss up to 30% of cases of colorectal liver metastases (CRLMs). We assessed the impact of contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEUS) on the detection of CRLMs and on changes to the therapeutic strategy; additionally, we assessed the accuracy of CEUS in differentiating unclear focal liver lesions (FLLs) compared to staging-CT.


We prospectively analyzed all patients with newly diagnosed and histologically confirmed colorectal cancer (CRC) at our tertiary gastroenterological center between December 2015 and May 2019. CEUS was performed in a total of 296 patients without CRLMs after staging-CT using the contrast agent (SonoVue®). Standard of reference was obtained by MRI or histology to diagnose CRLMs missed by CT. Benign FLLs were confirmed by MRI or follow-up CT (mean follow-up interval: 18 months).


Eight additional CRLMs were detected by CEUS (overall 2.7%; sensitivity 88.9%, specificity 99.0%, positive predictive value 100%, negative predictive value 99.6%). All patients with CRLMs detected only by CEUS were in tumor stage T3/T4 (4.0% additionally detected CRLMs). The number needed to screen to detect 1 additional CRLM by CEUS was 37 in all patients and 24.5 in T3/T4-patients. When results were reviewed by a board-certified radiologist and oncologist, the therapeutic strategy changed in 6 of these 8 patients. Among the 62 patients (20.9%) with unclear FLLs after staging-CT, CEUS determined the dignity (malignant vs. benign) of 98.4% of the FLLs.


Overall, CEUS detected 2.7% additional CRLMs (including 4.0% in tumor stage T3/T4) with a significant impact on the oncological therapeutic strategy for 75% of these patients. Patients with tumor stage T3/T4 would particularly benefit from CEUS. We propose CEUS as the first imaging modality for CT-detected lesions of unknown dignity.

Lay summary

In patients with newly diagnosed colorectal cancer, contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEUS) detected additional liver metastases after computed tomography (CT). In the majority of these patients, the oncological therapy was changed after obtaining the CEUS results. After staging-CT, 21% of hepatic lesions remained unclear. In these cases, CEUS was accurate to either reveal or exclude liver metastasis in nearly all patients and could reduce costs (e.g., number of MRI scans).

Authors: Mikael Sawatzki 1, Ulrich Güller 2, 3, Sabine Güsewell 4, Daniela B. Husarik 5, David Semela 1, Stephan Brand 1

1Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Kantonsspital, St. Gallen, Switzerland2Center for Medical Oncology & Hematology, Spital STS Thun, Switzerland3Clinic for Visceral Surgery and Medicine, Inselspital, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland4Clinical Trials Unit, Kantonsspital, St. Gallen, Switzerland5Institute of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, Kantonsspital, St. Gallen, Switzerland

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