Introduction. To explore the feasibility, safety, and efficiency of ethiodized oil tumor marking combined with irreversible electroporation (IRE) for small hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs) that were invisible on unenhanced computed tomography (CT). Methods. A retrospective analysis of the institutional database was performed from January 2018 to September 2018. Patients undergoing ethiodized oil tumor marking to improve target-HCC visualization in subsequent CT-guided IRE were retrieved. Target-HCC visualization after marking was assessed, and the signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs) and contrast-to-noise ratios (CNR) were compared between pre-marking and post-marking CT images using the paired t-test. Standard IRE reports, adverse events, therapeutic endpoints, and survival were summarized and assessed. Results. Nine patients with 11 target-HCCs (11.1–18.8 mm) were included. After marking, all target-HCCs demonstrated complete visualization in post-marking CT, which were invisible in pre-marking CT. Quantitatively, the SNR of the target-HCCs significantly increased after marking (11.07 ± 4.23 vs. 3.36 ± 1.79, p = 0.006), as did the CNR (4.32 ± 3.31 vs. 0.43 ± 0.28, p = 0.023). In sequential IRE procedures, the average current was 30.1 ± 5.3 A, and both the delta ampere and percentage were positive with the mean values of 5.8 ± 2.1 A and 23.8 ± 6.3%, respectively. All procedures were technically successful without any adverse events. In the follow-up, no residual unablated tumor (endpoint-1) was observed. The half-year, one-year, and two-year local tumor progression (endpoint-2) rate was 0%, 9.1%, and 27.3%. The two-year overall survival rate was 100%. Conclusions. Ethiodized oil tumor marking enables to demarcate small HCCs that were invisible on unenhanced CT. It potentially allows a safe and complete ablation in subsequent CT-guided IRE.
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