Background & Aims: It has been suggested that clinically relevant portal hypertension may affect the therapeutic management and prognosis of cirrhotic patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Nevertheless, the importance of the presence of esophageal varices in these patients has not yet been addressed formally. In this study our aim was to evaluate the prevalence and prognostic relevance of the presence of esophageal varices in a large series of patients with HCC. Methods: The prevalence of esophageal varices was evaluated in 1153 HCC patients who were consecutively referred to 10 Italian centers (the Italian Liver Cancer group). Survival was calculated from the time of HCC diagnosis until death or until the most recent follow-up visit, and was evaluated according to the presence or absence of esophageal varices. The independent prognostic meaning of the presence of esophageal varices was evaluated further in a multivariate regression analysis. Results: Esophageal varices were found in 730 patients (63.3%). Patients with varices showed significantly shorter survival times (P <.0001) as compared with patients without varices. Death as a result of bleeding was more common in patients with varices (P = .0127). In multivariate analysis, the presence of esophageal varices was associated independently with poorer survival (adjusted relative risk, 1.25; 95% confidence interval, 1.06-1.48; P = .0095). Conclusions: More than half of the patients with HCC have esophageal varices. The presence of esophageal varices is associated with a higher risk of death from bleeding, and is an independent determinant of the patient's prognosis. This variable should be taken into account in the diagnostic and therapeutic work-up of HCC patients.
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