Recall patterns and risk of primary liver cancer for subcentimeter ultrasound liver observations: a multicenter study

Hepatol Commun. 2023 Mar 7;7(3):e0073. doi: 10.1097/HC9.0000000000000073. eCollection 2023 Mar 1.


Background: Patients with cirrhosis and subcentimeter lesions on liver ultrasound are recommended to undergo short-interval follow-up ultrasound because of the presumed low risk of primary liver cancer (PLC).

Aims: The aim of this study is to characterize recall patterns and risk of PLC in patients with subcentimeter liver lesions on ultrasound.

Methods: We conducted a multicenter retrospective cohort study among patients with cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis B infection who had subcentimeter ultrasound lesions between January 2017 and December 2019. We excluded patients with a history of PLC or concomitant lesions ≥1 cm in diameter. We used Kaplan Meier and multivariable Cox regression analyses to characterize time-to-PLC and factors associated with PLC, respectively.

Results: Of 746 eligible patients, most (66.0%) had a single observation, and the median diameter was 0.7 cm (interquartile range: 0.5-0.8 cm). Recall strategies varied, with only 27.8% of patients undergoing guideline-concordant ultrasound within 3-6 months. Over a median follow-up of 26 months, 42 patients developed PLC (39 HCC and 3 cholangiocarcinoma), yielding an incidence of 25.7 cases (95% CI, 6.2-47.0) per 1000 person-years, with 3.9% and 6.7% developing PLC at 2 and 3 years, respectively. Factors associated with time-to-PLC were baseline alpha-fetoprotein >10 ng/mL (HR: 4.01, 95% CI, 1.85-8.71), platelet count ≤150 (HR: 4.90, 95% CI, 1.95-12.28), and Child-Pugh B cirrhosis (vs. Child-Pugh A: HR: 2.54, 95% CI, 1.27-5.08).

Conclusions: Recall patterns for patients with subcentimeter liver lesions on ultrasound varied widely. The low risk of PLC in these patients supports short-interval ultrasound in 3-6 months, although diagnostic CT/MRI may be warranted for high-risk subgroups such as those with elevated alpha-fetoprotein levels.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Bile Duct Neoplasms*
  • Bile Ducts, Intrahepatic
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications
  • Liver Cirrhosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Liver Neoplasms* / diagnostic imaging
  • Liver Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • alpha-Fetoproteins


  • alpha-Fetoproteins