Aims/background: This study was undertaken in order to assess the main features of hepatocellular carcinoma in Germany, a country with low incidences of this tumor.
Methods: Two hundred and eighty consecutive patients with hepatocellular carcinomas admitted to the Medical School Hannover between 1993-1997 were retrospectively studied.
Results: Reliable data for the assessment of the etiology and the tumor stage of HCC were available for 268 patients. The female/male ratio was 1/4. In 51.9% of the patients, HCC was associated with hepatitis virus B or C (HBV, HCV) infection: 35.1% with HBV, 26.9%) with HCV and 10% coinfection with HBV/HCV This result emphasizes the major impact of HBV and HCV infection in liver cancer in Germany. Of all patients with HCC 74.6%) had liver cirrhosis. The predominant majority of the HCC (87%) were restricted to the liver: in only 5.9% could regional lymph node metastases as well as 8.5%) metastases in other organs be clinically diagnosed by chest X-ray, computed tomography scan or sonography. Data to asses the Okuda tumor stage were available for 166 patients: 47% were classified as stage I, 47% as stage II and only 6% as stage III. Serum AFP were determined in 195 patients. In 66% of the patients, the AFP value was elevated, but only in 30% did the AFP level reach the value of 500 microg/l, which is considered to be significant for HCC diagnosis in patients with liver cirrhosis. The proportion of liver cirrhosis was higher in HCV (97.8%) versus HBV (80.6%) associated HCC, which was the only significant (p<0.05) difference in the characteristics of HCC according to the etiology.
Conclusion: Our study shows that liver cirrhosis is the prime risk factor for hepatocarcinogenesis in Germany. However, the very high proportion of hepatitis virus related HCC, in particular the high proportion of HBV infections, contradicts the common view that alcohol is by far the most important etiological factor for hepatocarcinogenesis in low hepatitis virus endemic areas such as Germany.