The accurate identification and characterization of lymph nodes by modern imaging modalities has important therapeutic and prognostic significance for patients with newly diagnosed cancers. The presence of nodal metastases limits the therapeutic options, and it generally indicates a worse prognosis for the patients with nodal metastases. Yet anatomic imaging (CT and MR imaging) is of limited value for depicting small metastatic deposits in normal-sized nodes, and nodal size is a poor criterion when there is no extracapsular extension or focal nodal necrosis to rely on for diagnosing nodal metastases. Thus, there is a need for functional methods that can be reliably used to identify small metastases. Contrast-enhanced MR imaging of lymph nodes is a non-invasive method for the analysis of the lymphatic system after the interstitial or intravenous administration of contrast media. Moreover, some lymphotrophic contrast media have been developed and used for detecting lymph node metastases, and this detection is independent of the nodal size. This article will review the basic principles, the imaging protocols, the interpretation and the accuracies of contrast-enhanced MR imaging of lymph nodes in patients with malignancies, and we also focus on the recent issues cited in the literature. In addition, we discuss the results of several pre-clinical studies and animal studies that were conducted in our institution.
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