Surveillance for Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Patients With Cirrhosis

Ju Dong Yang; W. Ray Kim


Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012;10:16-21. 

In This Article

Published Guidelines and Summary

Most practice guidelines suggest that patients at risk of HCC undergo surveillance. Published guidelines for HCC surveillance are summarized in Table 4. Although not ideal, US is the preferred modality for surveillance. The AASLD guideline recommends patients with cirrhosis from any cause to undergo HCC surveillance by using abdominal US at 6-month intervals. AFP is inadequate as a surveillance test. The European Association for the Study of the Liver recommends that the ideal target population is Child–Pugh class A cirrhotic patients without severe comorbid conditions. Patients not suitable for curative therapy might be excluded from surveillance. The Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver specifies cirrhotic patients with HBV and HCV as candidates for surveillance in whom the combination of US and AFP is to be used every 6 months. In contrast to these liver societies, the National Cancer Institute calls for additional data before HCC surveillance is routinely recommended, even in high-risk patients. They note that data to date suffer from several methodological flaws and limited generalizability and thus have not proved that surveillance decreases HCC mortality.

Against the backdrop of these recommendations, in the particular case of our patient, we have little doubt that he benefited from the surveillance because it led to detection of an early HCC lesion, followed by successful liver transplantation. He was "fortunate" to have experienced hepatic decompensation that drew close medical attention to his liver disease, which resulted in institution of surveillance for HCC. Because he had not been followed for his HBV, he could very well have presented with advanced HCC, if his liver disease had remained compensated. Although our patient would have been a candidate for surveillance according to most guidelines, he belonged in the majority of patients in whom surveillance is not practiced as a result of patient preference, lack of socioeconomic or health insurance support, or poor awareness of or adherence to guideline recommendations by the physician.

Among human malignancies, HCC is unique in that cirrhosis or advanced fibrosis is essentially a prerequisite condition, which makes it relatively straightforward to identify subjects who should be subjected to surveillance. However, it is obvious that not all patients with cirrhosis develop HCC, and the best informed surveillance strategy should include accurate risk stratification. As of today, we lack detailed knowledge for individualized risk stratification, which prevents formulation of an optimal surveillance program. Clearly, more high-quality data are needed to improve the outcome of patients with HCC, whose incidence is rising in the United States and globally. In the meantime, the clinician is encouraged by cases like ours that careful adherence to surveillance in at-risk individuals provides opportunities to make a meaningful difference in the patient's outcome.


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