This study aimed to assess the imaging appearances of focal liver reactions following stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) for small hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and to examine relationships between imaging appearance and baseline liver function. We retrospectively studied 50 lesions in 47 patients treated with SBRT (30-40 Gy in 5 fractions) for HCC, who were followed up for more than 6 months. After SBRT, all patients underwent regular follow-ups with blood tests and dynamic CT scans. At a median follow-up of 18.1 months (range 6.2-43.7 months), all lesions but one were controlled. 3 density patterns describing focal normal liver reactions around HCC tumours were identified in pre-contrast, arterial and portal-venous phase scans: iso/iso/iso in 4 patients (Type A), low/iso/iso in 8 patients (Type B) and low/iso (or high)/high in 38 patients (Type C). Imaging changes in the normal liver surrounding the treated HCC began at a median of 3 months after SBRT, peaked at a median of 6 months and disappeared 9 months later. Liver function, as assessed by the Child-Pugh classification, was the only factor that differed significantly between reactions to treatment showing "non-enhanced" (Type A and B) and "enhanced" (Type C) appearances in CT. Hence, liver tissue with preserved function is more likely to be well enhanced in the delayed phase of a dynamic contrast-enhanced CT scan. The CT appearances of normal liver seen in reaction to the treatment of an HCC by SBRT were therefore related to background liver function and should not be misread as recurrence of HCC.
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