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BSG Best Practice Document: Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) Surveillance during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Updated on: 02 Nov 2020   First published on 28 Oct 2020

The incidence of HCC in patients with compensated cirrhosis is 1-2% per year.

NICE recommends offering HCC surveillance to patients with cirrhosis and to selected patients with chronic hepatitis B infection.* EASL recommends HCC surveillance for patients with chronic hepatitis C infection and advanced fibrosis. **

For HCC surveillance to be effective, curative treatment options of liver resection, tumour ablation or liver transplantation must be available to patients in whom HCC is detected. Whilst surveillance increases detection of HCC before it becomes symptomatic, systematic reviews provide conflicting evidence for improved survival.

Planning for recovery

Cirrhosis management and therefore HCC surveillance is placed within the BSG Covid-19 service grid where management can be

  • deferred for 6 weeks during the peak/ plateau phase and
  • deferred for 6 weeks during the deceleration phase of the pandemic.

Recovery of services can be planned in the deceleration phase to be ready to commence again routinely from the early recovery phase. Planning should be in conjunction with ultrasound services.

When planning recovery of services take the following into account:

  • Ensure there is a robust mechanism in place for timely review of results to avoid delays in recall for follow-up imaging and diagnosis
  • Co-incide surveillance with cirrhosis monitoring blood tests and clinical reviews to minimise visits to hospital or other healthcare settings. Cirrhosis clinical reviews are possible by telephone or video platforms for most patients who are suitable for HCC surveillance if normal outpatient services are being adapted to new ways of working.
  • Ensure there is a robust system in place for planning the next surveillance scan and cirrhosis review.

Patient selection for surveillance

Patients enrolled into a surveillance programme should have a good understanding of the purpose of surveillance, its aims and its limitations.

Patients with compensated cirrhosis and good performance status should be prioritised for surveillance.

  • Those patients with Child-Pugh score >B7 and / or ascites that is not controlled with diuretics will not tolerate anticancer treatment for HCC and surveillance is not recommended for these individuals. (The opportunity could be taken however to consider candidacy for liver transplant assessment referral).
  • Frailty and advanced comorbidities also impact on patients’ suitability for surveillance when these comorbidities have a major impact on life expectancy. Comorbidity burden increases with age.
  • Curative treatments require general anaesthesia and this provides a measure of the performance status required.

A Child-Pugh and performance status calculator for patients at risk of HCC is available to download at: https://www.basl.org.uk/index.cfm/content/page/cid/34




















* Hepatitis B recommendations

  • with significant fibrosis or cirrhosis (F2-4).
  • without significant fibrosis or cirrhosis if > 40 years and has a family history of HCC and HBV DNA ≥ 20,000 IU/ml.

** Hepatitis C recommendation

  • advanced fibrosis defined as ≥F3

RL Jones, IA Rowe & the BSG Liver Section

Leeds Liver Unit, St James’s University Hospital, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, UK



NICE CG 50 https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng50 (accessed 25/06/20)

NICE CG 165 https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg165 (accessed 25/06/20)

Taylor EJ, Jones RL, Guthrie AJ, Rowe IA. Modelling the benefits and harms of surveillance for hepatocellular carcinoma: Information to support informed choices. Hepatology 2017;66:1546-1555

Roskilly A, Rowe IA. Surveillance for hepatocellular carcinoma. Clinical Medicine 2018;18:66-69

Kanwal F, Singal AG. Surveillance for hepatocellular carcinoma: Current best practice and future direction. Gastroenterology 2019;157:54-64

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