Aim : To compare the clinico-pathological features of hepatitis B virus-related hepatocellular carcinoma in young and old patients.

Methods : The clinico-pathological characteristics of hepatitis B virus-related hepatocellular carcinoma were compared in 1863 consecutive patients (121 patients, ≤40 years; 1742 patients, > 40 years) seen at a single institution over the last 13 years.

Results : Young patients presented more often with pain (P < 0.0001), hepatomegaly (P = 0.01) and ruptured hepatocellular carcinoma (P = 0.02), whereas old patients presented with ankle oedema (P = 0.001), ascites (P = 0.002) and by routine screening (P = 0.035). Liver function, Child–Pugh grading and indocyanine green test were better preserved in young patients. They also had a higher α-foetoprotein concentration (P = 0.001), larger tumour size (P = 0.001) and more frequent metastasis (P = 0.008), but a similar surgical resection rate (33.6% vs. 28%), to old patients. There was no difference between the two groups in the overall post-resection survival rate, but there was a shorter survival in young patients with unresectable disease (3.6 months vs. 4.6 months, P = 0.004).

Conclusion : Young patients with hepatocellular carcinoma often show a later presentation, but a higher resectability rate and similar survival rates, than old patients. The screening programme should include young hepatitis B virus carriers, even in the absence of cirrhosis.