European journal of gastroenterology & hepatology vol:12 issue:1 pages:61-6
OBJECTIVE: This study analyses the characteristics of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in a low endemic area with special emphasis on the differences between cirrhotic and non-cirrhotic patients. DESIGN AND SETTING: The files of 154 consecutive patients with HCC observed in a single tertiary care hospital have been investigated to determine epidemiological parameters and diagnostic procedures. RESULTS: Compared to non-cirrhotic cases, cirrhotic patients with HCC are older and have a more pronounced male predominance. Their disease is more advanced, they usually present with multi-focal tumours, rarely located in the left liver lobe. Antibodies to hepatitis C (anti-HCV) are present in 55%, 52% ever had contact with hepatitis B (HBV) and 31% were hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg)-positive. Six non-cirrhotic cases were anti-HCV-positive. alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP) elevation > 50 and > 400 microg/l was more frequently observed in cirrhotic patients with HCC (P = 0.016). A striking association was found between enhanced AFP levels and the presence of anti-HCV (P = 0.0006), while no such relation existed for AFP and HBV markers. The sensitivity of a 'routine' ultrasound examination is disappointing for the early detection of HCC in cirrhotic patients. CONCLUSIONS: In our hospital, in a low endemic area for HCC, we have a surprisingly high proportion of non-cirrhotic patients with HCC (40%). In cirrhosis, usually the consequence of alcohol abuse or hepatitis B or C, small tumours can be missed by ultrasonography if not specifically looked for. AFP levels are particularly elevated in hepatitis C-induced HCC.