Objective: Hepatocellular carcinoma is a malignancy found worldwide that has typically poor prognosis despite treatment. Although several studies have dealt with prognostic factors, just a few detailed analyses of large series correlating the pathology of hepatocellular carcinoma with prognosis are available. The present study was undertaken to address this limitation.
Patients and methods: Our prior clinical study described 432 patients, but sufficient tissue was available for evaluation in only 299 patients. Of these, 224 samples contained primary hepatocellular carcinoma, while the remainder contained only metastatic tumor. Characteristics evaluated included degree of tumor differentiation, associated cirrhosis or hepatitis, presence of cytoplasmic inclusion bodies, and blood vessel invasion by the neoplasm.
Results: Of the 224 patients, 71% were male, 65% white, and 73% over the age of 45 years. Ninety-one percent were from North America. A total of 42 patients were found to have cirrhosis. Thirty-five percent had cytoplasmic inclusion bodies, and 25% showed evidence of blood vessel invasion. Tumor response rates (tumor shrinkage) were low (8%) regardless of treatment. Presence of cytoplasmic eosinophilic inclusion bodies and blood vessel invasion were not associated with increased survival. Some histopathologies (pelioid, spindle cell, fibrolamellar) were associated with a better prognosis. Patients with a predominant trabecular pattern (43%) did particularly poorly. Although sex was significantly associated with survival using a univariate analysis, this effect disappeared in a multivariate Cox model that adjusted simultaneously for other factors.
Conclusion: This investigation suggests that histologic subtype and clinical features may provide useful prognostic information in hepatocellular carcinoma. Poorer survival was observed in males, older patients with poorly differentiated tumors, or when associated with cirrhosis. Age younger than 45 years was a good prognostic factor, and presence of cirrhosis had an adverse effect on survival.