1SC Medicina ad Indirizzo Metabolico, Fondazione IRCCS Cà Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Via F. Sforza 35, 20122 Milan, Italy.
2Department of Pathophysiology and Transplantation, University of Milan, 20122 Milan, Italy.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common cause of liver disease worldwide and it ranges from simple steatosis to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). HCC represents the first liver tumor and the third source of cancer death. In the next few years, the prevalence of NAFLD and consequently of HCC is estimated to increase, becoming a major public health problem. The NAFLD-HCC shows several differences compared to other causes of chronic liver disease (CLD), including the higher percentage of patients that develop HCC in the absence of liver cirrhosis. In HCC surveillance, the international guidelines suggest a six months abdominal ultrasound (US), with or without alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) evaluation, in patients with cirrhosis and in a subgroup of patients with chronic hepatitis B infection. However, this screening program reveals several limitations, especially in NAFLD patients. Thus, new biomarkers and scores have been proposed to overcome the limits of HCC surveillance. In this narrative review we aimed to explore the differences in the HCC features between NAFLD and non-NAFLD patients, and those between NAFLD-HCC developed in the cirrhotic and non-cirrhotic liver. Finally, we focused on the limits of tumor surveillance in NAFLD patients, and we explored the new biomarkers for the early diagnosis of HCC.