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Hepatocellular Carcinoma. Amr Khayat, MBBS. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a primary malignancy of the liver. It is now the third leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, with over 500,000 people affected.  Hepatitis and excessive alcohol are the leading causes of HCC.

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Hepatocellular Carcinoma

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Hepatocellular carcinoma

Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Amr Khayat, MBBS

Hepatocellular carcinoma

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a primary malignancy of the liver.

It is now the third leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, with over 500,000 people affected. 

Hepatitis and excessive alcohol are the leading causes of HCC.

(Hepatitis B or hepatitis C, 20%) or with cirrhosis (about 80%).

HCC may present with right upper quadrant pain, weight loss, jaundice, bloating from ascites, and signs of decompensated liver disease.

Hepatocellular carcinoma

  • Microscopically, there are four cytological types:

    • fibrolamellar,

    • pseudoglandular (adenoid),

    • pleomorphic (giant cell) and

    • clear cell.

  • Local expansion, intrahepatic spread, and distant metastases.

  • Serum AFP rise in 40-64%.

  • On CT, HCC can have three distinct patterns of growth:

    • A single large tumor

    • Multiple tumors

    • Poorly defined tumor with an infiltrative growth pattern

Diagnostic procedures

Diagnostic Procedures

In patients with lesions less than 1 cm, >>>> conservative management with close follow-up and no biopsy is recommended.

In patients with 1- to 2-cm lesions, a biopsy should be performed,.

Patients with lesions greater than 2 cm, cirrhosis, characteristic imaging studies, and elevated AFP values can be managed without biopsy.

Patients with large tumors who are not candidates for resection or transplantation, >>>>>> biopsy is frequently not indicated.

Llovet JM, Fuster J, Bruix J. The Barcelona approach: diagnosis, staging, and treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma. Liver Transpl. Feb 2004;10(2 Suppl 1):S115-20.

Hepatocellular carcinoma

  • Important features that guide treatment include: -

    • Size

    • Spread (stage)

    • Involvement of liver vessels

    • Presence of a tumor capsule

    • Presence of extrahepatic metastases

    • Vascularity of the tumor

Ajcc uicc classification system

AJCC/UICC Classification System

Child pugh score

Child-Pugh score

The Child-Pugh score is used to assess the prognosis of chronic liver disease, mainly cirrhosis. To determine treatment required and the necessity of liver transplantation.

The score employs five clinical measures of liver disease. Each measure is scored 1-3, with 3 indicating most severe derangement.

Hepatocellular carcinoma

Chronic liver disease is classified into Child-Pugh class A to C, employing the added score from above.

Treatment management



“Potentially Curative”

“ Palliative ”

  • Surgical resection

  • Liver transplantation

  • Percutaneous ablation

    • Alcohol injection

    • Radiofrequency ablation

  • Transarterial embolization and chemoembolization

  • Chemotherapy.

Hepatocellular carcinoma

  • There is no agreement on a common treatment strategy for patients with HCC worldwide, and several proposals have been published.The three major curative therapies, resection, liver transplantation and percutaneous treatments, compete as first-line treatment option for small single HCC in patients with well-preserved liver function.

  • Llovet JM, Burroughs A, Bruix J. Hepatocellular carcinoma. The Lancet 2003; 362: 1907–17.

  • Poon RT, Fan ST, Tsang FH, Wong J. Locoregional therapies for hepatocellular carcinoma: a critical review from the surgeon's perspective. Ann Surg 2002; 235: 466–86.

Surgery resection and transplantation

Surgery: Resection and Transplantation

  • Surgery is the mainstay of HCC treatment and achieve the best outcomes in well-selected candidates.

  • Less than 5% patients resectable

  • Factors affecting resectability:

    • Size<5cm

    • number of tumors

    • involvement of major structures

    • hepatic function

    • no extra-hepatic spread

    • no portal hypertension ·

  • Requires experienced surgical and supporting team ·

  • 5 year survival 60%-70% ·

  • 3 year recurrence 45 - 60%

    Llovet JM, Fuster J, Bruix J. Intention-to-treat analysis of surgical treatment for early hepatocellular carcinoma: resection versus transplantation. Hepatology 1999; 30: 1434–40.

    Mazzaferro V, Regalia E, Doci R, et al. Liver transplantation for the treatment of small hepatocellular carcinomas in patients with cirrhosis. N Engl J Med 1996; 334: 693–9.

  • Llovet JM, Fuster J, Bruix J. Intention-to-treat analysis of surgical treatment for early hepatocellular carcinoma: resection versus transplantation. Hepatology 1999; 30: 1434–40.

  • Mazzaferro V, Regalia E, Doci R, et al. Liver transplantation for the treatment of small hepatocellular carcinomas in patients with cirrhosis. N Engl J Med 1996; 334: 693–9.



  • Milan Criteria :

  • Single HCC ≤5 cm or

  • Up to three nodules ≤3 cm

  • No extra hepatic spread

  • About 10 % qualify for listing

  • The major drawback of transplantation is

    • The scarcity of donors.

    • The long waiting time.

      While Waiting :

      Adjuvant therapies whilst on the waiting list are used in most centers to prevent tumor progression.

Resection vs transplantaion

Resection Vs Transplantaion

Liovet hepatology 1999

138 pt with cirrhosis and HCC

85 LT and 53 Resection

Child’s A and B

Percutaneous treatments

Percutaneous Treatments

For patients who cannot undergo resection.

Complete responses in more than 80% of tumors smaller than 3 cm in diameter, but in 50% of tumors of 3-5 cm in size.

5-year survival rates of 40%-60%. reported in patients with small single tumors, commonly <2 cm in diameter.

Although these treatments provide good results, they are unable to achieve response rates and outcomes comparable with surgical treatments.

Transarterial Embolization and Chemoembolization is recommended as first line non-curative therapy for non-surgical patients with large/multifocal HCC who do not have vascular invasion or extrahepatic spread.

Sala M, Llovet JM, Vilana R, et al. Initial response to percutaneous ablation predicts survival in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma. Hepatology 2004; 40: 1352–60.

Lencioni R, Cioni D, Crocetti L, et al. Early-stage hepatocellular carcinoma in patients with cirrhosis: long-term results of percutaneous image-guided radiofrequency ablation. Radiology 2005; 234: 961–7.

Omata M, Tateishi R, Yoshida H, Shiina S. Treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma by percutaneous tumor ablation methods: ethanol injection therapy and radiofrequency ablation. Gastroenterology 2004; 127: S159–66.

Percutaneous ethanol injection

Percutaneous Ethanol Injection

  • 207 patients with cirrhosis + HCC < 5 cm ·

  • 100% Ethanol

  • Follow up was 25 months

  • No complications

  • 4.3 sessions per patient

  • 88% complete necrosis

  • 1 ,2,3-year survival rates: 90,80,63%

    Cancer 1992;69:925

Radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency Ablation

Hepatocellular carcinoma



Hepatocellular carcinoma

Radiology 1999; 210:655

Lin et al. 2004

RFA : More expensive, more complication, more seeding.

PEI: More Sessions, less effective in tumors 2cm

Palliative therapies

Palliative Therapies

  • Primary treatment for unresectable HCC.

  • Embolization agents – usually gelatin or microspheres – may be administered together with selective intra-arterial chemotherapy mixed with lipiodol (chemoembolization).

  • Doxorubicin, mitomycin and cisplatin are the commonly used antitumoral drugs.

  • Arterial embolization achieves partial responses in 15-55% of patients, and significantly delays tumour progression and vascular invasion.

    # Bruix J, Sala M, Llovet JM. Chemoembolization for hepatocellular carcinoma. Gastroenterology 2004; 127: S179–88.

    # Llovet JM, Real MI, Montana X, et al. Arterial embolisation or chemoembolisation versus symptomatic treatment in patients with unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 2002; 359: 1734–9.

    # Lo CM, Ngan H, Tso WK, et al. Randomized controlled trial of transarterial lipiodol chemoembolization for unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma. Hepatology 2002; 35: 1164–71.

Transarterial chemoembolization

Transarterial Chemoembolization

Meta-analysis of 7 randomized controlled trials

  • 2 yr survival: 41% (19-63%)

  • Treatment response: 35% (16-61%)

  • Average no. of sessions: 1-4.5

  • Risks:

    • Infection

    • Tumor lysis syndrome

    • Hepatic failure

  • Llovel J He aloI2003"37:429

Systemic treatments

Systemic Treatments

  • A meta-analysis of seven RCTs comparing tamoxifen vs. conservative management, comprising 898 patients, showed neither antitumoral effect nor survival benefit of tamoxifen. Thus, this treatment is discouraged in advanced HCC.

  • Systemic chemotherapy has been tested in nine RCT. The most active agents in vitro and in vivo are doxorubicin and cisplatin. Systemic doxorubicin has been tested in more than 1000 patients within clinical trials and provides partial responses in around 10% of cases, without any evidence of survival advantages .

  • Llovet JM, Bruix J. Systematic review of randomized trials for unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma: chemoembolization improves survival. Hepatology 2003; 37: 429–42.

  • # Fong Y, Kemeny N, Lawrence T. Cancer of the liver and biliary tree. In: De Vita VT, Hellman S, Rosenberg S, eds. Cancer: Principles and Practices of Oncology. Philadelphia, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2001: 1162–204.

  • # Palmer D, Hussain S, Johnson P. Systemic therapies for hepatocellular carcinoma. Expert Opin Investig Drugs 2004; 13: 1555–68.



Palliative not Curative.

Regional (Intra-arterial) better that systemic.

Resistant to many agents.

Follow up


  • Despite optimal treatment, hepatocellular carcinoma continues to have a high recurrence rate. majority of which occur within 2 years.

  • Early recurrence after resection is associated with a dismal prognosis, reducing 5-year survival rates from 70% to 30%.

  • Common extrahepatic sites of metastatic disease include lung, bone, CNS, and adrenal glands. 

  • Factors that increase the likelihood of recurrence include the presence of :

    • multiple foci of hepatocellular carcinoma,

    • liver capsule invasion,

    • tumor size (>5 cm).

    • Vascular invasion, both microscopic and macroscopic.

  • El-Serag HB, Tran T, Everhart JE. Diabetes increases the risk of chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma. Gastroenterology. Feb 2004;126(2):460-8.

Hepatocellular carcinoma

  • In general, a CT scan at 1 month postresection.

  • Serum alpha-fetoprotein measurements and repeat imaging studies (eg, ultrasound, CT, MRI) every 3-6 months.

  • After 2-3 years, safe to increase the follow-up interval.

Hepatocellular carcinoma

Bruix J, Sherman M, 2005: Hepatology 42:1208-1236.



Early-stage hepatocellular carcinoma is typically clinically silent, and HCC is often advanced at first manifestation.

Without treatment, the 5-year survival rate is less than 5%.

Complete surgical resection followed by hepatic transplantation offers the best long-term survival, but few patients are eligible for this therapy.

Radiofrequency ablation is the preferred method for managing unresectable small HCCs that are few in number. More widespread disease is treated with percutaneous therapies such as chemoembolization.

Systemic administration of biologic and chemotherapeutic agents is minimally successful in slowing the growth of HCC and typically is used to control symptoms in patients with overwhelming disease.

A multidisciplinary approach that includes surgery, systemic therapy, and radiation therapy and that is based on the cooperation of radiation oncologists, interventional and diagnostic radiologists, hepatologists, and pathologists offer the best chance of a cure or at least a longer and more normal life.

Hepatocellular carcinoma

Thank You

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