Screening for Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Chronic Liver Disease: A Systematic Review.Kansagara D, Papak J, Pasha AS, O’Neil M, Freeman M, Relevo R, Quiñones A, Motu’apuaka M, Jou JH. Ann Intern Med. 2014 Jun 17. [Epub ahead of print]
Guidelines recommend routine screening for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in high-risk patients, but the strength of evidence supporting these recommendations is unclear.
To review the benefits and harms of HCC screening in patients with chronic liver disease.
MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and ClinicalTrials.gov from inception to April 2014; Cochrane databases to June 2013; reference lists; and technical advisors.
English-language trials and observational studies comparing screening versus no screening, studies of harms, and trials comparing different screening intervals.
Mortality and adverse events were the outcomes of interest. Individual-study quality and the overall strength of evidence were dual-reviewed using published criteria.
Of 13 801 citations, 22 studies met inclusion criteria. The overall strength of evidence on the effects of screening was very low. One large trial found decreased HCC mortality with periodic ultrasonographic screening (rate ratio, 0.63 [95% CI, 0.41 to 0.98]), but the study was limited by methodological flaws. Another trial in patients with hepatitis B found no survival benefit with periodic α-fetoprotein screening. In 18 observational studies, screened patients had earlier-stage HCC than clinically diagnosed patients, but lead- and length-time bias confounded the effects on mortality. Two trials found no survival differences between shorter (3- to 4-month) and longer (6- to 12-month) screening intervals. Harms of screening were not well-studied.
Only English-language studies were included. The evidence base is limited by methodological issues and a paucity of trials.
CONCLUSION: There is very-low-strength evidence about the effects of HCC screening on mortality in patients with chronic liver disease. Screening tests can identify early-stage HCC, but whether systematic screening leads to a survival advantage over clinical diagnosis is uncertain.