Better survival in female patients with hepatocellular carcinoma. Possible causes from a pathologic approach



Background. Hepatocellular carcinoma is notably more prevalent in men than in women.

Methods. To examine the sex-related characteristics of patients with primary hepatocellular carcinoma, 35 women were compared with 243 men, both groups having undergone surgical resection of the tumor.

Results. Women had a lower incidence of tumor recurrence, with median disease free survival of 19.5 months compared with 4.5 months for men (P < 0.001). Women also had more favorable actuarial survival than men [36.5 months for women compared with 12.4 months for men (P = 0.002)]. Women had a significantly higher incidence (80%) of tumor encapsulation than men (45%) (P < 0.001). Furthermore, the tumors in women were frequently less invasive in terms of lower incidence of tumor microsatellites, liver invasion, and positive histologic margin. Tumor microsatellite formation was present with 16% of tumors in women, compared with 60% for men (P < 0.0001). Liver invasion was found in 37% of tumors in women and 61% in men (P = 0.03). Only 6% of tumors in women had a positive histologic margin, compared to 24% in men (P = 0.04). There was no statistical significance in the incidence of cirrhosis in the nontumorous liver, hepatitis B surface antigen positivity, mean age, or tumor size, between women and men.

Conclusions. Women who had hepatocellular carcinoma and hepatic resection had better survival rates and a lower rate of tumor recurrence than male patients. The better prognosis in women with hepatocellular carcinoma appeared to be related to the pathobiologic characteristics of the tumor (i.e., frequent encapsulation and lower tumor invasiveness).