A Concise Review on the Frequency, Major Risk Factors and Surveillance of Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) in β-Thalassemias: Past, Present and Future Perspectives and the ICET-A Experience

Mediterr J Hematol Infect Dis. 2020 Jan 1;12(1):e2020006. doi: 10.4084/MJHID.2020.006. eCollection 2020.


Due to the recent alarming increase in the incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in thalassemias, the present report reviews briefly the frequency, the major risk factors, and the surveillance of HCC in β-thalassemias. Over the past 33 years, 153 cases of HCC were reported in patients with thalassemia, mainly in Italy and Greece. Among HCV-infected patients, additional factors promoting the development of HCC included: advanced age, male sex, chronic hepatitis B (CHB) co-infection, and iron overload. For early diagnosis of HCC, sequential ultrasound screening is recommended especially for thalassemia patients with chronic hepatitis C (CHC), which coincides with (one or more) additional risk factors for HCC. Here we report also the preliminary data from thalassemic patients, above the age of 30 years, followed in 13 ICET-A centers. The total number of enrolled patients was 1,327 (males: 624 and 703 females). The prevalence of HCC in thalassemia major patients [characterized by transfusion-dependency (TDT)] and thalassemia intermedia [characterized by nontransfusion dependency (NTDT)] was 1.66 % and 1.96 %, respectively. The lowest age at diagnosis of HCC was 36 years for TDT and 47 years for NTDT patients. We hope that this review can be used to develop more refined and prospective analyses of HCC magnitude and risk in patients with thalassemia and to define specific international guidelines to support clinicians for early diagnosis and treatment of HCC in thalassemic patients.

Keywords: Hepatocellular carcinoma; Risk factors; Surveillance; Thalassemias.

Publication types

  • Review