Hepatocellular carcinoma is a highly prevalent disease in many Asian countries, accounting for 75-80% of victims worldwide. The incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma varies enormously across Asia, but tends to follow the incidences of hepatitis B infection and liver cirrhosis. The incidence and etiology of hepatocellular carcinoma in Japan are different from the rest of Asia, but similar to that in Western countries because hepatitis C infection is the main etiological factor in Japan.
Hepatitis B virus vaccination programs are showing great success in reducing hepatitis B virus-related hepatocellular carcinoma. Screening program improves detection of early hepatocellular carcinoma and has some positive impact on survival, but the majority of hepatocellular carcinoma patients in Asia still present with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma.
Long-term outcomes following treatment of even early/intermediate or advanced disease are often unsatisfactory because of a lack of effective adjuvant and systemic therapies. Various clinical practice guidelines for hepatocellular carcinoma have been established and are in use. Clinical diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma by imaging diagnosis is replacing diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma by pathological confirmation. New imaging and treatment techniques are continuously being developed and guidelines should be updated every 3 or 4 years, incorporating new evidence.
New molecularly targeted therapies hold great promise. Sorafenib is the first systemic therapy to demonstrate prolonged survival vs. the placebo in patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma. Various other new molecularly targeted agents are currently under investigation.