Screening for Hepatocellular Carcinoma

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Abstract

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is common throughout the world and most often develops as a late complication of chronic viral hepatitis or cirrhosis of any cause. As a result of the high prevalence rate of chronic hepatitis C, the incidence of HCC is rising in the United States, as well as in European and Asian countries. The overall survival rate of HCC is poor, and surgical resection and liver transplantation are the only curative treatment options. Screening for HCC offers the best hope for early detection, eligibility for treatment, and improved survival. Most physicians routinely screen at-risk patients with chronic viral hepatitis and cirrhosis for HCC, despite the lack of official guidelines. The current consensus recommendations are to screen healthy hepatitis B virus carriers with annual or semiannual serum alpha-fetoprotein; carriers with chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis and patients with cirrhosis of any etiology are surveyed with twice yearly serum alpha-fetoprotein and liver ultrasound. This article will review the current recommendations for HCC screening, the rationale that led to these recommendations, and the challenges of cost–effectiveness research in this area.

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