Background/aims: To assess the value of hepatic-arterial-phase computed tomography (HAP-CT) versus ultrasound (US) plus alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) in the surveillance of cirrhotic patients with previously treated hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Methods: Thirty-six cirrhotic patients, treated for single nodular HCC <4cm with complete response and no evidence of other focal lesions, were enrolled in a prospective study and underwent simultaneous AFP/US/spiral-CT follow-up every 6 months. Focal lesions were considered recurrences when they appeared as globular enhancement areas (EA) at HAP-CT and increased in size during the follow-up.
Results: Fifteen of 36 patients showed at least one focal lesion for a total of 43 EA: 38/43 increased in size, four did not change and one disappeared. EA were first observed after a follow-up of 9+/-4 (range 6-18) months. At the same time, no patient had either nodular lesion at US examination or diagnostic levels of AFP. In 22 matched lesions, diagnosis by CT was 8.2+/-3.5 months earlier than by US. In 13 patients, one evolved EA was submitted to US-guided biopsy and histological examination showed HCC in all cases.
Conclusions: Periodical spiral-CT examination is more effective than US-AFP in early detection of HCC recurrence in cirrhotic patients successfully treated for HCC.