Division of Surgical Oncology, Department of Surgery, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD, USA.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common primary malignancy of the liver and the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide. Recurrence rates after curative intent treatment for HCC are high; 5-year disease-free survival ranges from only 19 to 81 %. There is no direct evidence to guide the optimal frequency and method of surveillance for recurrent HCC after curative intent treatment. In contrast, there is strong evidence supporting both primary screening for HCC in patients with chronic liver disease. After resection, HCC tends to recur locally, whereas the pattern after transplantation is more at extrahepatic sites. In theory, if an HCC recurrence is discovered early, more therapeutic options are available for treatment of the recurrent HCC. As such, close surveillance after curative intent therapy may have the potential to prolong survival. We herein review the available literature derived from primary surveillance of patients with cirrhosis, as well as data on postoperative surveillance of HCC patients. In aggregate, although data remain scarce, close surveillance with α-fetoprotein and cross-sectional imaging every 3-4 months for 3 years after curative intent therapy, followed by surveillance every 6-12 months thereafter, seems the most prudent approach to follow-up of patients with HCC in the postsurgical setting.