Hepatocellular adenoma: Classification, variants and clinical relevance

Semin Diagn Pathol. 2017 Mar;34(2):112-125. doi: 10.1053/j.semdp.2016.12.007. Epub 2016 Dec 20.


Hepatocellular adenomas are benign tumors with two major complications, bleeding and malignant transformation. The overall narrative of hepatocellular adenoma has evolved over time. Solitary or multiple hepatocellular developing in the normal liver of women of child bearing age exposed to oral contraceptives still represents the most frequent clinical context, however, new associations are being recognized. Hepatocellular adenoma is discovered on a background of liver diseases such as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, vascular diseases, and alcoholic cirrhosis. Hepatocellular adenoma is also reported in men, young or older adults, and even in infants. On the morpho-molecular side, the great leap forward was the discovery that hepatocellular adenoma was not a single entity and that at least 3 different subtypes exist, with specific underlying gene mutations. These mutations affect the HNF1A gene, several genes leading to JAK/STAT3 pathway activation and the CTNNB1 gene. All of them are associated with more or less specific histopathological characteristics and can be recognized using immunohistochemistry either with specific antibodies or with surrogate markers. Liver pathologists and radiologists are the key actors in the identification of the different subtypes of hepatocellular adenoma by the recognition of their specific morphological features. The major impact of the classification of hepatocellular adenoma is to identify subjects who are at higher risk of malignant transformation. With the development of new molecular technologies, there is hope for a better understanding of the natural history of the different subtypes, and, particularly for their mechanisms of malignant transformation.

Keywords: C reactive protein; Glutamine synthetase; HCA classification; HNF1 A biallelic inactivating mutations; Inflammatory hepatocellular adenoma; Liver fatty acid binding protein; MODY 3; Unclassified hepatocellular adenoma; b-catenin mutation exon 3 S45; b-catenin mutation exon 7/8; β-catenin mutation exon 3.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma, Liver Cell / classification*
  • Adenoma, Liver Cell / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / classification*
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology*