Should All Pediatric Patients with Hepatitis B Undergo Routine Surveillance for Hepatocellular Carcinoma?

C Rajan et al. JPGN Reports: November 2021 – Volume 2 – Issue 4 – p e124. Open Access: Hepatocellular Carcinoma in the Absence of Cirrhosis in a Child With Inactive Chronic Hepatitis B Infection

In this case study, the authors “describe an unusual case of a child with chronic hepatitis B infection who developed HCC in the absence of active hepatitis or cirrhosis.” Based on their case report, they advocate for “regular HCC surveillance for all children with chronic hepatitis B, regardless of presence or absence of hepatitis or cirrhosis.”

However, the authors suggestions to expand surveillance to all children with hepatitis B is NOT aligned with current expert opinion (by most experts). This potential recommendation deserves (deserved) more commentary in their discussion. The AASLD recommends offering surveillance when the risk of HCC is at least 1.5% per year and the incidence is greater than 0.2% per year, which includes patients with cirrhosis and some non-cirrhotic hepatitis B carriers [7]. In a study from Taiwan (blog post: HBV Vaccination Prevents Cancer), the authors showed the beneficial effects of vaccination: HCC incidence per 105 person-years was 0.92 in the unvaccinated cohort and 0.23 in the vaccinated birth cohorts. This study also showed how rare HCC cases are in children; thus, showing benefit of vaccination was impressive.

The AASLD guidelines on HCC (Link to PDF: Diagnosis, Staging, and Management of
Hepatocellular Carcinoma: 2018 Practice Guidance by the American Association for
the Study of Liver Diseases
) notes the following high risk categories:

My take: This case report is helpful in emphasizing the risk of HCC in patients with HBV, even in those without significant risk factors. However, at this time most experts do not recommend surveillance in those with a low risk of developing HCC.

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