Feasibility of conducting a randomized control trial for liver cancer screening: Is a randomized controlled trial for liver cancer screening feasible or still needed?


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.

  • Supported through the National Health and Medical Research Council Centre of Clinical Research Excellence to Improve Outcomes in Chronic Liver Disease. J.G. is supported by the Robert W. Storr Bequest to the Sydney Medical School Foundation, University of Sydney and a STREP Grant from the New South Wales Cancer Council.


Screening for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is commonly practiced and recommended in published guidelines, but evidence for its efficacy has been controversial. We tested the feasibility of conducting a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of HCC surveillance in patients with cirrhosis and followed up those offered screening to detect clinical outcomes. Participation was offered to patients with cirrhosis attending liver clinics at three university hospitals. Following discussion, patients received a decision aid (DA) that outlined the risks and benefits of surveillance. The proposed screening program comprised ultrasonography 6-monthly and serum alpha-fetoprotein every 3 months. We envisaged five groups of patients: those who agreed to randomization, those choosing nonrandomized screening, those wanting continuation of usual care, those who were undecided, and those refusing participation. Among 205 patients, 204 (99.5%) declined randomization. Of these, 181 (88%) elected for a nonrandomized screening program, 10% chose usual care (which typically included ad hoc screening), and two were undecided. Among 176 patients fluent in English communication skills, 160 (91%) preferred nonrandomized screening compared with 22/29 (76%) patients needing an interpreter (P < 0.026). Of 173 patients in nonrandomized screening followed up for a mean 13.5 ± 6.04 months, three developed HCC, two died from nonliver-related causes, and one underwent liver transplantation for liver failure. Eighteen of 21 patients in “usual care” received ad hoc screening. A simultaneous survey on the quality of the DA showed that the majority of participants believed that the information provided was unbiased. Conclusion: Although an RCT is theoretically ideal for determining the efficacy, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of HCC screening, informed patients prefer surveillance. A randomized study of HCC screening is not feasible when informed consent is imparted. (HEPATOLOGY 2011;)