Hepatocellular carcinoma: diagnosis and treatment

Gastroenterology. 2002 May;122(6):1609-19. doi: 10.1053/gast.2002.33411.


Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most frequent primary malignancy of the liver and appears to be rising in incidence in the United States and other developed western countries. Imaging studies play a key role in diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma, and more and more commonly, patients are being diagnosed at an asymptomatic stage. The use of triphasic computed tomography scanning and improved magnetic resonance imaging equipment and protocols has led to greater sensitivity and specificity for these techniques in diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma. Accurate staging of hepatocellular carcinoma is important in determining prognosis and in helping decide the best treatment for each patient. No one staging system appears optimal, but important factors to be considered are the size of the tumor, severity of underlying liver disease, and the functional status of the patient. Liver transplantation has grown in importance as a treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma but may be limited by availability of donor organs and long waiting times. This situation may be improved by greater use of living donor liver transplantation. Hepatic resection remains an important treatment modality for hepatocellular carcinoma, particularly in the absence of cirrhosis. Tumor ablation by alcohol injection or radiofrequency ablation is associated with favorable outcomes and may be considered a potentially curative treatment. Early diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma remains a key goal in improving the poor prognosis of this form of liver cancer. Identifying hepatocellular carcinoma at an early stage is often associated with having better treatment options for patients with small, asymptomatic tumors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / therapy*
  • Hepatectomy
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Neoplasm Staging