Department of Cellular Pathology, Royal Free Hospital, London NW3 2QG, UK, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Histopathologists retain a critical role in the diagnosis and management of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). HCC arises usually but not exclusively in a background of advanced-stage chronic liver disease. The histological diagnosis of HCC poses many challenges particularly when dealing with liver biopsy specimens due to the heterogeneity of HCC and the difficulty to confirm hepatocellular differentiation in some instances. Primary liver tumors should be considered as a continuum with typical hepatocellular and cholangiocarcinoma at the two ends and a whole range of tumors showing both hepatocellular and cholangiocellular differentiation with or without an associated progenitor/stem cell component in the middle. Characterization of combined (or mixed) hepatocellular-cholangiocarcinoma can be very challenging. In advanced-stage chronic liver disease, the main challenge for the histopathologist is still to differentiate between HCC and its precursors, although this is rarely critical in the clinical setting at present. HCC originating in non-cirrhotic livers needs to be differentiated from other primary and extrahepatic tumors and from hepatocellular adenoma, bearing in mind that progression to malignancy is more through a continuum that watertight histological categories.