BACKGROUND: Variation in survival in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has been attributed to different aetiologies or disease stages at presentation. While international guidelines recommend surveillance of high-risk groups to permit early diagnosis and curative treatment, the evidence that surveillance decreases disease-specific mortality is weak.
METHODS: We compared HCC survival figures from Japan (n=1174) and Hong Kong (n=1675) over similar time periods (Japan 2000-2013, Hong Kong, China 2003-2014). The former has an intensive national surveillance programme, while the latter has none. We also analysed changes in survival in Japan over a 50-year period including data from before and after institution of a national HCC surveillance programme.
RESULTS: In Japan, over 75% of cases are currently detected by surveillance, whereas in Hong Kong <20% of cases are detected presymptomatically. Median survival was 52 months in Japan and 17.8 months in Hong Kong; this survival advantage persisted after allowance for lead-time bias. Sixty-two per cent of Japanese patients had early disease at diagnosis and 63% received curative treatment. The comparable figures for Hong Kong were 31.7% and 44.1%, respectively. These differences could not be accounted for by disease aetiology, and patients in Hong Kong who were detected at an early stage had a similar survival to the analogous patients in Japan.
CONCLUSIONS: The variation in survival is largely accounted for by stage at diagnosis, which in turn relates to the intensity of surveillance programmes and the consequent variation in curative therapeutic options.
- geographical variation
- hepatocellular carcinoma
- hepatitis B virus
- hepatitis C virus