Is the prognosis of young patients with hepatocellular carcinoma poorer than the prognosis of older patients? A comparative analysis of clinical characteristics, prognostic features, and survival outcome
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- Chang, PE., Ong, WC., Lui, HF. et al. J Gastroenterol (2008) 43: 881. doi:10.1007/s00535-008-2238-x
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Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is uncommon in young adults. This study examined the clinical characteristics and survival outcome of young HCC patients compared with those in older patients.
Data were prospectively collected from 638 patients diagnosed with HCC over a 9-year period. Patients aged ≤40 years at diagnosis of HCC were defined as young HCC patients. Their clinical characteristics and survival was compared with those aged >40 years.
The prevalence of young HCC was 8.6% (55/638). Young HCC patients had a significantly higher rate of hepatitis B-related disease (HBsAg positivity: 85.5% vs. 59.7%, P = 0.003), better Child-Pugh status (Child-Pugh class A: 69.1% vs. 43.9%, P = 0.002), and lower rates of cirrhosis (12.7% vs. 34.3%, P = 0.001) compared with the older group. They had more advanced disease at diagnosis, with higher α-fetoprotein levels (>12 000 μg/l: 45.4% vs. 30.5%, P = 0.026), a higher incidence of portal vein involvement (63.6% vs. 40%, P = 0.003), and a more advanced TNM stage (TNM IV: 83.6% vs. 66.4%, P = 0.018). More young patients were eligible for surgical resection (18.2% vs. 8.2%, P = 0.014). The overall survival between the two groups was similar, but when the patients were stratified for stage of disease, the median survival of young patients with early disease was superior to that of older patients (51.2 vs. 11.6 months, P = 0.025).
HCC in young adults occurs mainly in hepatitis B carriers and is often diagnosed at an advanced stage. Their survival outcome is not different from that of older patients because the advanced disease at presentation offsets the advantages of better liver function and a higher resection rate. However, there is a distinct survival advantage for young patients diagnosed with early disease. These results support the importance of extending HCC surveillance to young hepatitis B carriers.