Does Hepatocellular Carcinoma Surveillance Increase Survival in At-Risk Populations? Patient Selection, Biomarkers, and Barriers

Dig Dis Sci. 2020 Dec;65(12):3456-3462. doi: 10.1007/s10620-020-06550-6.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a highly morbid and prevalent cancer globally. While high quality evidence for mortality benefit of HCC surveillance is lacking, early detection of HCC is likely beneficial as prognosis is highly correlated with tumor stage. High risk populations, including patients with cirrhosis and subgroups with Hepatitis B, should undergo surveillance with ultrasound ± alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) at 6-month intervals. In addition, emerging data suggest that patients with Hepatitis C cirrhosis who achieve sustained virologic response should continue surveillance. Further research is needed to determine the value of surveillance in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in the absence of cirrhosis or with advanced fibrosis of other etiologies. Newer biomarkers and models such as Lens culinaris agglutinin-reactive fraction of AFP, des-γ-carboxy prothrombin, and the GALAD score are increasingly utilized in the diagnosis and prognostication of HCC. The role of these biomarkers in surveillance is still under investigation but may potentially offer a more practical alternative to traditional image-based surveillance. Despite recommendations from multiple professional society guidelines, many at-risk patients do not receive HCC surveillance due to barriers at the patient, clinician, and health care system levels. Strategies such as implementing patient navigation services, educating clinicians about surveillance guidelines, and creating automated outreach systems, may improve surveillance rates and ultimately reduce morbidity and mortality from HCC.

Keywords: Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP); Des-γ-carboxy prothrombin (DCP); Hepatocellular carcinoma; Mortality; Screening.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / prevention & control
  • Hepatitis C / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / diagnosis*
  • Liver Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Liver Neoplasms* / mortality
  • Liver Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Prognosis
  • Public Health Surveillance / methods
  • Risk Adjustment / methods