Liver cancer risk after HCV cure in patients with advanced liver disease without non-characterized nodules

Published:November 28, 2021DOI:


      • F4 patients without non-characterized liver nodules remained at risk of HCC after HCV cure.
      • All cases of HCC were observed in patients with a history of decompensation and/or clinically significant portal hypertension.
      • None of the 63 F3 cured patient without non-characterized nodules developed HCC.
      • Larger studies are needed to define the HCC risk in F3 cured patients.

      Background & Aims

      Recognition of non-characterized liver nodules (NCLN) prior to direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) is associated with increased hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) risk in patients with HCV. The risk of HCC has not been defined in F3/F4 patients in whom NCLN have been ruled-out before starting DAAs and at sustained virological response (SVR). This study aimed to estimate HCC incidence in this population.


      We performed a prospective study including HCV-infected patients with F3/F4 fibrosis, without a history of HCC, and who achieved SVR after DAAs. Patients were only included if they had undergone ultrasound imaging that excluded the presence of HCC/NCLN within 30 days after SVR. All patients were evaluated every 6 months until developing primary liver cancer, death or withdrawal of informed consent. HCC incidence was expressed per 100 patient-years (/100PY). Adherence to screening program was calculated every 6 months for the first 48 months.


      A total of 185 patients (63/122, F3/F4) were included. Among those with cirrhosis, 92% were Child-Pugh A and 42.7% had clinically significant portal hypertension (CSPH). Albumin-bilirubin score was 1 in 84.9% and 2 in 15.1% of patients, respectively. The median clinical and radiologic follow-up was 52.4 months and 48 months, respectively. Ten patients developed HCC: HCC incidence was 1.46/100PY (95% CI 0.79-2.71) in the whole cohort, 2.24/100PY (95% CI 1.21-4.17) in F4 only and 3.63/100PY (95% CI 1.95–6.74) in patients with CSPH. No HCC was registered in patients with F3. Median time between SVR and HCC occurrence was 28.1 months; 12 non-primary liver cancers were also identified.


      Patients with cirrhosis without NCLN at SVR remain at risk of HCC development. The absence of HCC in patients with F3 reinforces their marginal cancer risk, but prospective studies are needed to exclude them from screening programs.

      Lay summary

      Patients with HCV-related cirrhosis, without non-characterized liver nodules at sustained virologic response, remain at risk of hepatocellular carcinoma despite viral cure. However, the cancer risk after successful direct-acting antiviral treatment is marginal in patients with F3 fibrosis without non-characterized liver nodules. If confirmed in larger prospective studies, current screening recommendations may need to be revisited in this group of patients.

      Graphical abstract


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