AIM: To retrospectively evaluate the diagnostic performance of free-breathing diffusion-weighted imaging (FB-DWI) with modified imaging parameter settings for detecting hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs). METHODS: Fifty-one patients at risk for HCC were scanned with both FB-DWI and respiratory-triggered DWI with the navigator echo respiratory-triggering technique (RTDWI). Qualitatively, the sharpness of the liver contour, the image noise and the chemical shift artifacts on each DWI with b -values of 1000 s/mm2 were independently evaluated by three radiologists using 4-point scoring. We compared the image quality scores of each observer between the two DWI methods, using the Wilcoxon signed-rank test. Quantitatively, we compared the signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs) of the liver parenchyma and lesion-to-nonlesion contrast-to-noise ratios (CNRs) after measuring the signal intensity on each DWI with a b-factor of 1000 s/mm2. The average SNRs and CNRs between the two DWI methods were compared by the paired t-test. The detectability of HCC on each DWI was also analyzed by three radiologists. The detectability provided by the two DWI methods was compared using McNemar's test. RESULTS: For all observers, the averaged image quality scores of FB-DWI were: Sharpness of the liver contour [observer (Obs)-1, 3.08 ± 0.81; Obs-2, 2.98 ± 0.73; Obs-3, 3.54 ± 0.75], those of the distortion (Obs-1, 2.94 ± 0.50; Obs-2, 2.71 ± 0.70; Obs-3, 3.27 ± 0.53), and the chemical shift artifacts (Obs-1, 3.38 ± 0.60; Obs-2, 3.15 ± 1.07; Obs-3, 3.21 ± 0.85). The averaged image quality scores of RTDWI were: Sharpness of the liver contour (Obs-1, 2.33 ± 0.65; Obs-2, 2.37 ± 0.74; Obs-3, 2.75 ± 0.81), distortion (Obs-1, 2.81 ± 0.56; Obs-2, 2.25 ± 0.74; Obs-3, 2.96 ± 0.71), and the chemical shift artifacts (Obs-1, 2.92 ± 0.59; Obs-2, 2.21 ± 0.85; Obs-3, 2.77 ± 1.08). All image quality scores of FB-DWI were significantly higher than those of RT-DWI (p < 0.05). The average SNR of the normal liver parenchyma by FB-DWI (11.0 ± 4.8) was not significantly different from that shown by RT-DWI (11.0 ± 5.0); nor were the lesion-to-nonlesion CNRs significantly different (FB-DWI, 21.4 ± 17.7; RT-DWI, 20.1 ± 15.1). For all three observers, the detectability of FB-DWI (Obs-1, 43.6%; Obs-2, 53.6%; and Obs-3, 45.0%) was significantly higher than that of RT-DWI (Obs-1, 29.1%; Obs-2, 43.6%; and Obs-3, 34.5%) (p < 0.05). CONCLUSION: FB-DWI showed better image quality and higher detectability of HCC compared to RT-DWI, without significantly reducing the SNRs of the liver parenchyma and lesionto- nonlesion CNRs.
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