Background & aims: More than 90% of cases of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) occur in patients with cirrhosis, of which alcohol is a major cause. The CIRRAL cohort aimed to assess the burden of complications in patients with alcoholic cirrhosis, particularly the occurrence of HCC.
Methods: Patients with biopsy-proven compensated alcoholic cirrhosis were included then prospectively followed. The main endpoint was the incidence of HCC. Secondary outcomes were incidence of hepatic focal lesions, overall survival (OS), liver-related mortality and event-free survival (EFS).
Results: From October 2010 to April 2016, 652 patients were included in 22 French and Belgian centers. During follow-up (median 29 months), HCC was diagnosed in 43 patients. With the limitation derived from the uncertainty of consecutive patients' inclusion and from a sizable proportion of dropouts (153/652), the incidence of HCC was 2.9 per 100 patient-years, and one- and two-year cumulative incidences of 1.8% and 5.2%, respectively. Although HCC fulfilled the Milan criteria in 33 cases (77%), only 24 patients (56%) underwent curative treatment. An explorative prognostic analysis showed that age, male gender, baseline alpha-fetoprotein, bilirubin and prothrombin were significantly associated with the risk of HCC occurrence. Among 73 deaths, 61 had a recorded cause and 27 were directly attributable to liver disease. At two years, OS, EFS and cumulative incidences of liver-related deaths were 93% (95% CI 90.5-95.4), 80.3% (95% CI 76.9-83.9), and 3.2% (95% CI 1.6-4.8) respectively.
Conclusion: This large prospective cohort incompletely representative of the whole population with alcoholic cirrhosis showed: a) an annual incidence of HCC of up to 2.9 per 100 patient-years, suggesting that surveillance might be cost effective in these patients; b) a high proportion of HCC detected within the Milan criteria, but only one-half of detected HCC cases were referred for curative treatments; c) a two-year mortality rate of up to 7%.
Lay summary: Cirrhosis is a risk factor for primary liver cancer, leading to recommendations for periodic screening. However, for alcohol-related liver disease the rational of periodic screening for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is controversial, as registry and databased studies have suggested a low incidence of HCC in these patients and highly competitive mortality rates. In this study, a large cohort of patients with biopsy-proven alcoholic cirrhosis prospectively screened for HCC demonstrated a high annual incidence of HCC (2.9%) and a high percentage of small cancers theoretically eligible for curative treatment. This suggests that patients with liver disease related to alcohol should not be ruled out of screening.
Keywords: Alcoholic liver disease; Compensated cirrhosis; Competing risk analysis; HCC.
Copyright © 2018 European Association for the Study of the Liver. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.