Evaluation of malignant biliary obstruction: efficacy of fast multiplanar spoiled gradient-recalled MR imaging vs spin-echo MR imaging, CT, and cholangiography

R N Low, J S Sigeti, I R Francis, D Weinman, B Bower, A Shimakawa, T K Foo
AJR. American Journal of Roentgenology 1994, 162 (2): 315-23

OBJECTIVE: Although CT and cholangiography have proven value in the detection of biliary obstruction, determining the extent of biliary tumors and imaging small pancreatic or ampullar tumors remain problematic. We hypothesized that the superior contrast resolution of MR, coupled with contrast-enhanced breath-hold imaging, might increase the sensitivity for tumor detection and improve the depiction of the point of obstruction in patients with malignant biliary disease.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Twenty-one MRI studies were performed prospectively in patients with malignant biliary obstruction by obtaining breath-hold contrast-enhanced fast multiplanar spoiled gradient-recalled (FMPSPGR) images at 0 and 10 min, conventional spin-echo T1-weighted images, and fast spin-echo T2-weighted images. Findings on MR images were correlated with findings on CT scans (15 cases) and/or cholangiograms (14 cases) by two observers. All MR images, CT scans, and cholangiograms were reviewed to evaluate tumor detection, visualization of dilated bile ducts, and conspicuity of the obstructing tumor. A four-point scale (1 = excellent tumor depiction and conspicuity, 4 = tumor not detected) was used for evaluation. Contrast-to-noise ratios for tumor and bile were calculated for the three MR pulse sequences.

RESULTS: The contrast-enhanced FMPSPGR images and CT scans provided excellent depiction of the dilated biliary tree in 95% and 93% of examinations, respectively, with both techniques superior to fast spin-echo and T1-weighted images (p < .005). Tumor detection was best with the immediate FMPSPGR MR images (20/21), compared with fast spin-echo MR images (16/21) (p = .04), T1-weighted MR images (16/21) (p = .04), CT scans (12/15) (p > .05), and cholangiograms (13/14) (p > .05). Of 13 examinations showing proximal biliary obstruction, the mean score for tumor conspicuity was best with the immediate enhanced FMPSPGR MR images (1.38 +/- .65), compared with T1-weighted MR images (2.38 +/- 1.3) and fast spin-echo MR images (2.08 +/- 1.0) (p < .05), but it was not different from the delayed FMPSPGR MR images (1.75 +/- 1.1) or CT scans (1.9 +/- 0.99) (p > .05). For five of six cholangiocarcinomas, the immediate and delayed enhanced FMPSPGR MR images showed excellent tumor conspicuity owing to their enhancement with gadopentetate dimeglumine. Data for contrast-to-noise ratios of tumor showed that the immediate FMPSPGR MR images (15.8 +/- 10.2) were superior to T1-weighted images (6.3 +/- 3.5, p < .01), but were not different from fast spin-echo images (13.5 +/- 6.7) or delayed FMPSGR images (11.5 +/- 8.9). For eight examinations in patients with distal biliary obstruction, the mean score for tumor conspicuity was greater with the immediate FMPSPGR MR images (1.38 +/- 0.52), compared with fast spin-echo images (3.25 +/- 0.71, p < .005), T1-weighted images (2.63 +/- 1.06, p < .05), and delayed FMPSPGR MR images (2.60 +/- 1.5, p < .05), but was similar to that with CT scans (1.40 +/- 0.89, p > .05). Data for contrast-to-noise ratios of tumor showed an advantage for the immediate FMPSPGR MR images (12.0 +/- 7.7) over T1-weighted images (4.0 +/- 2.6, p < .01) and delayed FMPSPGR images (4.3 +/- 2.6, p < .025), but no difference from fast spin echo images (6.6 +/- 8.8, p = .05).

CONCLUSION: Contrast-enhanced FMPSPGR MR imaging is sensitive for the detection of tumors causing biliary obstruction. For proximal obstruction, it may be particularly effective for detecting and defining tumor extent of hilar cholangiocarcinomas because of their enhancement with gadopentetate dimeglumine. For cases of distal obstruction, this technique showed improved tumor detection and conspicuity compared with T1- and fast spin-echo T2-weighted images, but showed no advantage over CT.

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