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Am J Gastroenterol. 2005 Sep;100(9):1995-2004.

Natural history of untreated nonsurgical hepatocellular carcinoma.

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Department of Surgery, Kwong Wah Hospital, and Centre for the Study of Liver Disease, China.



Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is common in Asia, and the majority are not suitable for curative surgical treatment. We studied the natural history of untreated nonsurgical HCC to examine whether the prognosis has changed with improved supportive treatment and to identify factors affecting survival.


One hundred and six ethnic Chinese patients with HCC not amenable to curative treatment were managed symptomatically as control-arm patients in three randomized studies conducted between January 1996 and April 2001. Seventy-six (71.7%) patients were positive for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg). Prognostic variables for survival were identified by univariate analysis and were subjected to a multivariate Cox analysis to identify the independent predictors of survival.


All but four patients were followed until death. Common causes of death were tumor progression (63.2%) and liver failure (31.1%). The overall median survival was 3 months, and the 1-yr survival was 7.8% only. The median survival of patients of Okuda stages I, II, and III were 5.1 months, 2.7 months, and 1.0 month, respectively (p < 0.05 for comparison between any two stages). Multivariate analysis revealed four independent prognostic variables, namely, serum bilirubin, blood urea, serum alpha-fetoprotein, and Okuda stage.


The prognosis of untreated HCC not suitable for curative treatment in Asia is grave despite improved supportive treatment. The four prognostic variables identified in this study are important in the decision for palliative treatment, and the Okuda staging remains an important prognostic guide.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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