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Cancer Health Center

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Adult Primary Liver Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - General Information About Adult Primary Liver Cancer

Incidence and Mortality

Estimated new cases and deaths from liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer in the United States in 2014:[1]

  • New cases: 33,190.
  • Deaths: 23,000.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is relatively uncommon in the United States, although its incidence is rising, principally in relation to the spread of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection.[2] HCC is the most common solid tumor worldwide and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths.[3,4]

Both local extension of tumor and extent of liver function impairment affect prognosis and guide selection of treatment. Liver transplantation, surgical resection, and ablation techniques offer high rates of complete responses, and a potential for cure in early HCC.[5] There are no large, robust, randomized studies that compare treatments considered effective for early stage disease, nor are there studies comparing these treatments with best supportive care. Best survivals are achieved when the HCC can be surgically excised (either by a transplantation or resection).

For patients with decompensated cirrhosis and a solitary lesion (<5 cm) or early multifocal disease (≤3 lesions, ≤3 cm), the best option is liver transplantation,[5] but the limited availability of deceased liver donors restricts the use of this approach.

Surgical resection is usually performed in patients with localized HCC and sufficient functional hepatic reserve.

Among noncurative treatment for HCC, transarterial chemoembolization and sorafenib have been shown to improve survival.[6,7,8]

Risk Factors

The etiology of HCC is likely multifactorial. Any chronic liver injury probably increases the risk of HCC. This risk seems elevated especially in patients who develop cirrhosis. The 5-year cumulative risk of developing HCC for patients with cirrhosis ranges between 5% and 30% and depends on etiology (highest in individuals with HCV infection), region or ethnicity (highest in Asians), and stage of cirrhosis.[9,10][Level of evidence: 3iii]

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection and HCV infection appear to be the most significant causes of HCC worldwide. Chronic HBV infection is the leading cause of HCC in Asia and Africa, and HCV infection is the leading cause of HCC in Europe, Japan, and North America.[5,11]

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