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Staging and prognostic factors in hepatocellular carcinoma

Steven A Curley, MD, FACS
Carlton C Barnett, Jr, MD
Eddie K Abdalla, MD
Section Editor
Kenneth K Tanabe, MD
Deputy Editor
Diane MF Savarese, MD


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is an aggressive tumor that frequently occurs in the setting of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. (See "Epidemiology and etiologic associations of hepatocellular carcinoma".) It is typically diagnosed late in the course of these diseases, and the median survival following diagnosis ranges from approximately 6 to 20 months [1]. Available therapeutic options for HCC are dictated by the complex interplay of tumor stage and the extent of underlying liver disease.

This topic review will provide an overview of staging and prognostic scoring systems for HCC. Surgical and nonsurgical treatments for HCC are discussed separately. (See "Overview of treatment approaches for hepatocellular carcinoma".)


A number of systems have been proposed to predict the prognosis for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), none of which has been universally adopted [2-8]. These schema variably incorporate four features that have been recognized as being important determinants of survival: the severity of underlying liver disease, the size of the tumor, extension of the tumor into adjacent structures, and the presence of metastases [2,3,9-11]; some (eg, the Hong Kong and French prognostic staging systems) also incorporate performance status [5,8]. The four most commonly used systems are the tumor-node-metastasis (TNM), Okuda and Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) systems, and the Cancer of the Liver Italian Program (CLIP) score. A new, evidence-based score – the ALBI (albumin-bilirubin) grade – if independently validated, may allow more objective assessment of the severity of liver dysfunction in patients with HCC across a wide spectrum of treatments. (See 'ALBI score' below.)

Tumor, node, metastasis (TNM) staging — The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM staging system (identical to that of the Union Internationale Contre le Cancer [UICC]) was revised in 2010 (table 1) [12]. Like the 2002 classification, this system recognizes the most important predictors of prognosis: the number of tumors, and the presence and extent of vascular invasion within the tumor [13,14]. However, compared with the 2002 staging system, there are some reclassification changes, primarily surrounding the better prognosis for multiple HCC versus HCC with major vascular invasion:

Staging of liver cancer includes only HCC; intrahepatic bile duct cancer is staged separately. (See "Epidemiology, pathogenesis, and classification of cholangiocarcinoma", section on 'TNM staging classifications'.)


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: May 31, 2016.
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