Background: Screening for hepatocellular carcinoma in cirrhotic patients using abdominal ultrasonography and alpha-foetoprotein levels is widely practiced.
Aim: To evaluate its cost-effectiveness using a Markov decision model.
Methods: Several screening strategies with abdominal ultrasonography or computerized tomography and serum alpha-foetoprotein at 6-12-month intervals in 40-year-old patients with chronic hepatitis C and compensated cirrhosis were simulated from a societal perspective, resulting in discounted costs per quality-adjusted life-year saved. Extensive sensitivity analysis was performed.
Results: For the least efficacious strategy, annual alpha-foetoprotein/ultrasonography, the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (vs. no screening) was $23 043/quality-adjusted life-year. Biannual alpha-foetoprotein/annual ultrasonography, the most commonly used strategy in the United States, was more efficacious, with a cost-effectiveness ratio of $33 083/quality-adjusted life-year vs. annual alpha-foetoprotein/ultrasonography. The most efficacious strategy, biannual alpha-foetoprotein/ultrasonography, resulted in a cost-effectiveness ratio of $73 789/quality-adjusted life-year vs. biannual alpha-foetoprotein/annual ultrasonography. Biannual alpha-foetoprotein/annual computerized tomography screening resulted in a cost-effectiveness ratio of $51 750/quality-adjusted life-year vs. biannual alpha-foetoprotein/annual ultrasonography screening.
Conclusions: Screening for hepatocellular carcinoma is as cost-effective as other accepted screening protocols. Of the strategies evaluated, biannual alpha-foetoprotein/annual ultrasonography gives the most quality-adjusted life-year gain while still maintaining a cost-effectiveness ratio <$50 000/quality-adjusted life-year. Biannual alpha-foetoprotein/annual computerized tomography screening may be cost-effective.