Background: Patients with alcoholic cirrhosis are at higher risk for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The role of HCC surveillance for these patients is undefined.
Objective: To provide population-based estimates of HCC incidence and comparisons of HCC-related mortality and total mortality among patients with alcoholic cirrhosis as a basis for assessing the role of HCC surveillance.
Design: Nationwide, registry-based, historical cohort study.
Patients: All Danish citizens with a first-time hospital diagnosis of alcoholic cirrhosis from 1993 to 2005.
Measurements: Hepatocellular carcinoma incidence and mortality starting 1 year after diagnosis of alcoholic cirrhosis through 2009; ratio of HCC-related mortality to total mortality.
Results: Among 8482 patients, 169 developed HCC. A total of 5734 patients died, 151 of whom had developed HCC. Five-year cumulative HCC risk was 1.0% (95% CI, 0.8% to 1.3%), and 5-year cumulative mortality was 43.7% (CI, 42.6% to 44.7%). Only 1.8% of all deaths were HCC-related. In sensitivity analyses that included all possible HCC diagnoses and a subpopulation of patients who were followed by hepatologists, the highest 5-year HCC risk was 1.9% (CI, 0.8% to 3.9%). These patients did not have higher mortality than patients in the nationwide cohort.
Limitation: Cirrhosis and HCC diagnoses were made by hospital physicians without uniform clinical criteria, and use of registry data precluded detailed information on clinical care of patients, including HCC surveillance.
Conclusion: Danish patients with alcoholic cirrhosis have a low risk for HCC, and HCC contributes little to their high mortality. On the basis of these data, HCC surveillance would be expected to have a minimal effect on mortality and is unlikely to be cost-effective.