OBJECTIVE: Screening for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is advocated in cirrhotic patients to optimize early detection and treatment. However, the cost-effectiveness is not well defined. Our objective was to perform a cost-utility analysis from a third-party payer's perspective of no screening, α-fetoprotein (AFP) concentration measurement alone, abdominal ultrasound (US) and AFP, abdominal three-phase CT and AFP, and abdominal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and AFP. METHODS: A Markov model was constructed simulating the natural history of hepatitis C-related cirrhosis in a cohort of patients age 50 yr over a time horizon of their remaining life expectancy. Transition probabilities were obtained from published data and U.S. vital statistics. Costs represented Medicare reimbursement data. Costs and health effects were discounted at a 3% annual rate. RESULTS: Screening with ultrasonography and AFP concentration measurement was associated with an incremental cost-utility ratio of $26,689 per quality-adjusted life year, whereas screening with abdominal three-phase CT and AFP concentration measurement was associated with an incremental cost-utility ratio of $25,232 per quality-adjusted life year compared with no screening. Compared with three-phase CT and AFP, magnetic resonance and AFP imaging costs $118,000 per quality-adjusted life year. Sensitivity analysis demonstrated that the results are most sensitive to the annual incidence of HCC, proportion of tumors amenable to treatment, and to transplant candidacy, whereas the choice of screening strategy is most sensitive to the test characteristics and cost. CONCLUSIONS: Screening for HCC with CT is a cost-effective strategy in transplant-eligible patients with cirrhosis secondary to chronic hepatitis C viral (HCV) infection, comparable with other commonly accepted screening interventions such as mammography and colonoscopy.
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