[The diagnostic approach to hepatocellular carcinoma]

D Schacherer, J Schoelmerich, I Zuber-Jerger
Zeitschrift Für Gastroenterologie 2007, 45 (10): 1067-74
Risk factors and symptoms of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC): The main risk factors of HCC include infection with hepatitis B or C virus, as well as alcohol consumption. There are no specific symptoms of HCC, making early diagnosis and detection of the disease difficult. When HCC presents with specific clinical symptoms, the tumour is typically very far advanced. Surveillance in liver cirrhosis: The most common serological marker used in HCC diagnosis is alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), but other tumour markers such as the des-gamma-carboxyprothrombin (DGCP) or fractions of AFP (AFP-L3) exist and there use is discussed in this context. Surveillance should be done by sonography at 6 (to 12) months intervals. The single nodule in the cirrhotic liver: Ultrasound is the most commonly used imaging modality for detecting HCC tumour nodules with a large range of reported sensitivities. HCC may appear as a hypoechoic, isoechoic, or hyperechoic round or oval lesion with intratumoural flow signals on Doppler or power Doppler sonography. The differentiation of smaller malignant lesions in cirrhotic livers can be improved by contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEUS). Spiral computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with and without contrast enhancement play an important role in the diagnosis and staging of HCC. If the vascular pattern on imaging is not typical, biopsy becomes necessary. The patient with known HCC: Different tumour markers are used in the evaluation of tumour progression, prediction of patient outcome and treatment efficacy. Among the various staging systems used in the context of HCC, the Barcelona-Clinic-Liver-Cancer (BCLC) staging system is currently the only staging system that takes into account tumour stage, liver function, physical status and cancer-related symptoms. Beside surgical resection, non-surgical treatments such as percutaneous ethanol injection (PEI), radiofrequency thermoablation (RFTA) and trans-arterial chemoembolisation (TACE) are used. Successful tumour "bridging" with ablative therapy methods can be achieved in carefully selected patients on the waiting list for orthotopic liver transplantation. Contrast-enhanced sonography is able to control the ablation treatment of HCC.

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