Background and methods: To detect potentially curable cases of hepatocellular carcinoma, outpatients with chronic hepatitis or compensated liver cirrhosis who were seen at the Center for Adult Diseases (Osaka, Japan) were examined periodically by means of ultrasonography and measurement of serum alpha-fetoprotein. Risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma were identified with a Cox proportional-hazards model.
Results: A total of 917 patients, 40 to 69 years old, were registered from May 1987 to March 1991. By the end of September 1991, liver cancer had developed in 54. The three-year cumulative risk of liver cancer was 12.5 percent for 240 patients with liver cirrhosis at enrollment and 3.8 percent for 677 patients with chronic hepatitis. Cox regression analysis showed that the risk of liver cancer was increased almost sevenfold in patients with hepatitis B surface antigen (rate ratio, 6.92; 95 percent confidence interval, 2.92 to 16.39) and fourfold in patients with hepatitis C antibody (rate ratio, 4.09; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.30 to 12.85). A high alpha-fetoprotein value at enrollment was also a risk marker for liver cancer.
Conclusions: Patients with hepatitis C virus infection have a greatly increased risk of liver cancer. Further studies are required to clarify the roles of other risk factors, including drinking and smoking habits.