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In whom, how and how often is surveillance for hepatocellular carcinoma cost-effective?

Ana Lilia Ruelas-Villavicencio, Florencia Vargas-Vorácková


Background: Despite well known worldwide differences in hepatocellular carcinoma incidence, which reflect different risk profiles, current recommendation of surveillance with ultrasound and alpha-fetoprotein twice-a-year has been restricted to cirrhotic patients. To evaluate the generalizability of this recommendation, we reviewed the clinical charts of hepatocellular carcinoma cases in a Mexican scenario. To evaluate efficiency, we performed a literature based cost-effectiveness analysis. Methods: Charts pertaining to 174 consecutive patients with histologically proven hepatocellular carcinoma, seen at a tertiary health care centre were analysed. A decision tree, based on the surveillance and recall algorithm of the European Association for the Study of the Liver was constructed. Ultrasound and/or alpha-fetoprotein, performed every six or twelve months were the diagnostic alternatives, and accurate diagnoses, direct medical costs and cost-effectiveness ratios were the outcomes of interest. Results: Male:female ratio was 1.2:1, underlying liver disease was secondary to alcohol in 44% and to hepatitis C virus in 26%, documented cirrhosis was present in 42%. Cost-effectiveness ratios for twice-ayear ultrasound and alpha-fetoprotein ranged from $303.09 to $346.22 U.S. dollars per accurate diagnosis, and for annual ultrasound from $115.86 to $116.42 U.S. dollars. Conclusions: Male gender, hepatitis C and cirrhosis were not predominant characteristics in our series. If a hepatocellular carcinoma surveillance program were to be instituted in our setting, or where patient characteristics are similar to ours, it probably should not be restricted to cirrhotic patients. Recommended performance of ultrasound and alpha-fetoprotein every six months is the least cost-effective surveillance strategy. Instead, annual ultrasound optimises diagnoses and costs.

Key words. Hepatocellular carcinoma, surveillance, alpha-fetoprotein, ultrasound, cost-effectiveness

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The Official Journal of the Mexican Association of Hepatology, the Latin-American Association for the Study of the Liver and the Canadian Association for the Study of the Liver

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