Ultrasound appearances of hepatic metastases

Last revised by Andrew Murphy on 23 Mar 2023

Ultrasound appearance of hepatic metastases can have bewildering variation, and the presence of hepatic steatosis can affect the sonographic appearance of liver lesions.

Radiographic features


Patterns do exist between ultrasound appearance of the hepatic metastases and the likely primary, which is sometimes helpful in directing a search for an unknown primary, as well as helping distinguish between benign lesions and metastatic disease from a particular primary:

Contrast-enhanced ultrasound

Contrast-enhanced ultrasound may be useful to increase the conspicuity of lesions and/or guide biopsy.

The 'hypovascular' and 'hypervascular' terminology refers to metastatic appearance on contrast-enhanced cross-sectional studies as peak arterial enhancement is not necessarily seen on arterial phase. The viable metastases of the liver show at least early peripheral enhancement on contrast-enhanced ultrasound even if the central aspect would remain unenhanced (necrotic). The extension of the central necrotic area often correlates the tumor size, hence small gastrointestinal metastases may enhance avidly and homogeneously in arterial phase.

  • arterial phase: variable depending on primary
    • hypovascular:  gastrointestinal, ovarian, pancreatic adenocarcinoma
    • hypervascular: neuroendocrine, melanoma, renal
  • portal venous and late phase
    • "wash out" (decreased echogenicity relative to background liver due to the lack of enhancement); may be the most useful phase for detection as all of the liver metastases show this phenomenon

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1: from RCC
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  • Case 2: upper GI or pancreatic primary
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  • Case 3: rectosigmoid cancer
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