Hepatocellular carcinoma in non-alcohol fatty liver disease - changing trends and specific challenges

Curr Med Res Opin. 2020 Feb;36(2):235-243. doi: 10.1080/03007995.2019.1683817. Epub 2019 Nov 4.


Background and Aims: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common primary liver cancer. The etiology of this disease is known in 90% of the patients, and it is viral in most of the cases. According to recent predictions, nearly half of the world population will be suffering from obesity by 2030. Consequently, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) may play a growing role in HCC epidemiology. In this review, we sought to explore the relationship between liver steatosis and HCC.Methods: A narrative review was conducted using the PubMed MeSH search. The eligible papers were identified using a standard PubMed search with relevant key terms and various synonyms.Results: According to the results, patients with NAFLD-HCC tended to be older than those with hepatitis C virus (HCV)-HCC, and they were more often obese and had concomitant diseases, such as diabetes. On the other hand, the synthetic liver function was better preserved in NAFLD-HCC patients, who also obtained lower scores on the Model for End-stage Liver Disease (MELD) and Child-Turcotte-Pugh (CTP). However, it has to be noted that HCC in patients with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) may develop without underlying cirrhosis. Although NASH-HCC is usually smaller and well-differentiated compared to HCV-HCC, the prognosis is similar in both groups. Efficient HCC screening in NASH cirrhosis poses a challenge because it is difficult to perform ultrasound examination in obese patients and alfa-fetoprotein level is no longer considered reliable.Conclusions: The constantly increasing prevalence of NAFLD in the general population can contribute to a growing role of NAFLD/NASH in HCC epidemiology. Moreover, some particular challenges specific for patients with liver steatosis may impede proper HCC diagnosis, treatment and follow-up.

Keywords: Hepatocellular carcinoma; liver cirrhosis; non-alcohol steatohepatitis; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications
  • Liver Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / complications*