Focal fatty sparing of the liver is the localized absence of increased intracellular hepatic fat, in a liver otherwise fatty in appearance i.e. diffuse hepatic steatosis. Recognition of this finding is important to prevent the erroneous belief that the region of sparing is itself a mass.
While diffuse hepatic steatosis is considered common, affecting approximately 25% of the population, focal fatty sparing of the liver is considered a slightly less common pattern across multiple studies 7-9.
Focal fatty sparing is per se an asymptomatic and benign phenomenon. However, the patient may be symptomatic from the abnormally increased fattiness of the remainder of the liver.
Important caveat: areas of focal fat sparing may be found adjacent to metastases (see below).
Similar to its inverse pathological counterpart, focal fatty change, regions of focal fatty sparing are thought to have altered perfusion compared to the rest of the liver (also, known as liver third inflow). The cause of this is incompletely understood. In the context of metastases, this may be due to compression/invasion of portal venules by tumor 3.
Focal fatty sparing typically has a geographic appearance and occurs in characteristic locations 1,3:
- adjacent to the porta hepatis (segment 4)
- gallbladder fossa
- adjacent to the falciform ligament
- subcapsular parenchyma
Important features, along with location and echogenicity/density/intensity are 2:
- absence of mass effect
- absence of distortion of vessels that run through the region
When it occurs outside of these areas or has a nodular appearance, it may become problematic distinguishing it from a focal liver lesion, especially as regions of focal sparing may be seen around focal liver lesions 2,3.
Liver with generalized steatosis demonstrates increased echogenicity 2. The area(s) of focal fatty sparing will lack this increased echogenicity, and the reporter may erroneously believe these areas to be abnormal.
Focal fatty sparing has a varying appearance in the arterial phase with isoenhancement being most common, while rarely hyperenhancement can also be observed 5. In the portal venous and late phase the lesion will never demonstrate washout and should remain isoenhancing compared to the surrounding normal liver 6.
Liver with generalized steatosis demonstrates reduced liver attenuation on both precontrast and portal venous phase imaging. The area(s) of focal fatty sparing will lack this reduced liver attenuation, and the reporter may erroneously believe these areas to be abnormal.
Pseudolesions (focal sparing) are better seen on out-of-phase imaging, but otherwise, appear normal and similar to the rest of the liver on T2 and contrast-enhanced sequences 1. Hepatobiliary contrast agents such as gadoxetate disodium can show greater delayed uptake and biliary excretion when compared to the fatty liver due to a greater concentration of functioning hepatocytes 4.
The rest of the liver demonstrates:
- T1: hyperintense
- T2: mildly hyperintense
- IP/OP: signal drop out on the out-of-phase sequence
Treatment and prognosis
When focal sparing is idiopathic, and not related to a hepatic focal mass, then the prognosis is that of a patient with diffuse hepatic steatosis.
Possible considerations include:
- 1. Tom WW, Yeh BM, Cheng JC et-al. Hepatic pseudotumor due to nodular fatty sparing: the diagnostic role of opposed-phase MRI. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2004;183 (3): 721-4. AJR Am J Roentgenol (full text) - Pubmed citation
- 2. Jamal MH, Rayment JH, Meguerditchian A et-al. Impact of the Sentinel Node Frozen Section Result on the Probability of Additional Nodal Metastases as Predicted by the MSKCC Nomogram in Breast Cancer. 2010;doi:10.1093/jjco/hyq225 - Pubmed citation
- 3. Chung JJ, Kim MJ, Kim JH et-al. Fat sparing of surrounding liver from metastasis in patients with fatty liver: MR imaging with histopathologic correlation. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2003;180 (5): 1347-50. AJR Am J Roentgenol (full text) - Pubmed citation
- 4. Yoo KD, Jun DW. [Focal fatty sparing of the liver]. (2014) The Korean journal of gastroenterology = Taehan Sohwagi Hakhoe chi. 63 (6): 382-5. Pubmed
- 5. Shiozawa, Kazue, Watanabe, Manabu, Ikehara, Takashi, Kogame, Michio, Shinohara, Mie, Shinohara, Masao, Ishii, Koji, Igarashi, Yoshinori, Makino, Hiroyuki, Sumino, Yasukiyo. Evaluation of Hemodynamics in Focal Steatosis and Focal Spared Lesion of the Liver Using Contrast-Enhanced Ultrasonography with Sonazoid. (2019) Radiology Research and Practice. 2014: 604594. doi:10.1155/2014/604594 - Pubmed class="ref_v4">
- 6. Claudon M, Dietrich CF, Choi BI, Cosgrove DO, Kudo M, Nolsøe CP, Piscaglia F, Wilson SR, Barr RG, Chammas MC, Chaubal NG, Chen MH, Clevert DA, Correas JM, Ding H, Forsberg F, Fowlkes JB, Gibson RN, Goldberg BB, Lassau N, Leen EL, Mattrey RF, Moriyasu F, Solbiati L, Weskott HP, Xu HX. Guidelines and good clinical practice recommendations for Contrast Enhanced Ultrasound (CEUS) in the liver - update 2012: A WFUMB-EFSUMB initiative in cooperation with representatives of AFSUMB, AIUM, ASUM, FLAUS and ICUS. (2013) Ultrasound in medicine & biology. 39 (2): 187-210. doi:10.1016/j.ultrasmedbio.2012.09.002 - Pubmed
- 7. Bhatnagar G, Sidhu HS, Vardhanabhuti V, Venkatanarasimha N, Cantin P, Dubbins P. The varied sonographic appearances of focal fatty liver disease: review and diagnostic algorithm. (2012) Clinical radiology. 67 (4): 372-9. doi:10.1016/j.crad.2011.10.020 - Pubmed
- 8. Décarie PO, Lepanto L, Billiard JS, Olivié D, Murphy-Lavallée J, Kauffmann C, Tang A. Fatty liver deposition and sparing: a pictorial review. (2011) Insights into imaging. 2 (5): 533-538. doi:10.1007/s13244-011-0112-5 - Pubmed
- 9. Hamer OW, Aguirre DA, Casola G, Lavine JE, Woenckhaus M, Sirlin CB. Fatty liver: imaging patterns and pitfalls. (2006) Radiographics : a review publication of the Radiological Society of North America, Inc. 26 (6): 1637-53. doi:10.1148/rg.266065004 - Pubmed
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