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      Liver Transplantation for the Treatment of Small Hepatocellular Carcinomas in Patients with Cirrhosis

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          The role of orthotopic liver transplantation in the treatment of patients with cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma is controversial, and determining which patients are likely to have a good outcome after liver transplantation is difficult. We studied 48 patients with cirrhosis who had small, unresectable hepatocellular carcinomas and who underwent liver transplantation. In 94 percent of the patients, the cirrhosis was related to infection with hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, or both. The presence of tumor was confirmed by biopsy or serum alpha-fetoprotein assay. The criteria for eligibility for transplantation were the presence of a tumor 5 cm or less in diameter in patients with single hepatocellular carcinomas and no more than three tumor nodules, each 3 cm or less in diameter, in patients with multiple tumors. Thirty-three patients with sufficient hepatic function underwent treatment for the tumor, mainly chemoembolization, before transplantation. After liver transplantation, the patients were followed prospectively for a median of 26 months (range, 9 to 54). No anticancer treatment was given after transplantation. The overall mortality rate was 17 percent. After four years, the actuarial survival rate was 75 percent and the rate of recurrence-free survival was 83 percent. Hepatocellular carcinoma recurred in four patients (8 percent). The overall and recurrence-free survival rates at four years among the 35 patients (73 percent of the total) who met the predetermined criteria for the selection of small hepatocellular carcinomas at pathological review of small hepatocellular carcinomas at pathological review of the explanted liver wer 85 percent and 92 percent, respectively, whereas the rates in the 13 patients (27 percent) whose tumors exceeded these limits were 50 percent and 59 percent, respectively (P=0.01 for overall survival; P=0.002 for recurrence-free survival). In this group of 48 patients with early-stage tumors, tumor-node-metastasis status, the number of tumors, the serum alphafetoprotein concentration, treatment received before transplantation, and 10 other variables were not significantly correlated with survival. Liver transplantation is an effective treatment for small, unresectable hepatocellular carcinomas in patients with cirrhosis.

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          Hepatocellular carcinoma in Italian patients with cirrhosis.

          Patients with cirrhosis of the liver are recognized as being at risk for hepatocellular carcinoma. The magnitude of the risk, the natural history of this disease, and the possibilities for detecting potentially curable tumors in patients in the Western world are unknown. To address these questions, we examined 447 Italian patients with well-compensated cirrhosis (which was of viral origin in 62 percent of them) from 1985 through 1990, performing serum alpha-fetoprotein assays and real-time ultrasonography every 3 to 12 months. Hepatocellular carcinoma was found in 30 patients (7 percent) at base line and in another 29 patients (7 percent of 417 patients free of tumor at base line) during follow-up periods averaging 33 months (range, 1 to 48). The cumulative hazard of the development of hepatocellular carcinoma during follow-up was higher among patients with persistently elevated serum alpha-fetoprotein levels (12 with tumors among 42 with such levels) than among those with fluctuating levels (11 among 82) or those with consistently normal levels (6 among 255). Only 17 patients had potentially operable tumors. The proportion of potentially operable tumors among those detected during follow-up was significantly lower than the proportion at enrollment (4 of 29 vs. 13 of 30, P = 0.027). The survival at one year of the 12 patients who underwent surgery was 67 percent, and the tumor-recurrence rate was 60 percent. Outcome was not appreciably different for the five patients who refused surgery. In the West, as in Asia, patients with cirrhosis of the liver are at substantial risk for hepatocellular carcinoma, with a yearly incidence rate of 3 percent. Our screening program did not appreciably increase the rate of detection of potentially curable tumors.
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            Natural history of hepatocellular carcinoma and prognosis in relation to treatment. Study of 850 patients.

            A total of 850 patients with hepatocellular carcinoma seen during the last 8 years were analyzed retrospectively for survival in relation to treatment and disease stage. A new staging scheme based on tumor size, ascites, jaundice and serum albumin was used. Clearly, the prognosis depended on disease stage. The median survival of 229 patients who received no specific treatment was 1.6 months, 0.7 month for Stage III patients, 2.0 months for Stage II, and 8.3 months for Stage I. The median survival of Stage I patients who had hepatic resection (n = 115) was 25.6 months and Stage II patients with resection (n = 42) was 12.2 months. In patients who had a small cancer (less than or equal to 25% of liver area in size) the median survival was 29.0 months. Survival of the surgically treated patients, which represented a highly selected group, was better than that of medically treated patients of a comparable stage. Median survival of Stage I medically treated patients (n = 124) was 9.4 months, for Stage II (n = 290) 3.5 months, and for Stage III (n = 50) 1.6 months. Medical treatment prolonged survival in Stage II and III patients, but not in Stage I. Transcatheter arterial embolization gave a better survival compared with chemotherapy, whether intra-arterial bolus administration of mitomycin C, systemic mitomycin C, or oral/rectal tegafur, in Stage II. Among various chemotherapeutic modalities, intra-arterial bolus injection was superior to systemic chemotherapy in survival in Stage II. In Stage III, chemotherapy improved survival as compared with no specific treatment. The major causes of death were hepatic failure and gastrointestinal bleeding, probably due to the coexistent advanced cirrhosis. These results in survival are much improved over the past reports, and the differences are probably a result of earlier diagnosis and frequent hepatic resections.
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              Liver resection versus transplantation for hepatocellular carcinoma in cirrhotic patients.

              Currently, there is considerable controversy about the place of transplantation in the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). This study compared resection to transplantation in cirrhotic patients with HCC in order to determine reasonable indications of each treatment. The usual procedure is to resect when feasible and to transplant in other cases. Three-year survival with and without recurrence was analyzed in 60 patients who underwent resection and 60 who underwent transplantation. Several prognostic factors, such as size, number of nodules, portal thrombus, and histologic form, were studied. In terms of overall survival rates, resection and transplantation yield the same results (50% vs. 47%, respectively, at 3 years). For transplantation, however, the rate for survival without recurrence is better than that for resection (46% vs. 27%, respectively; p 3 cm, or presence of portal thrombus). The best indication for transplantation seems to be patients with small and uninodular or binodular tumors; until now, these patients were considered to be the best candidates for resection. Patients undergoing transplantation for unresectable, large, multinodular or diffuse tumors seem to represent bad indications for transplantation. These results could help define reasonable indications for transplantation in an era with a shortage of liver grafts.

                Author and article information

                New England Journal of Medicine
                N Engl J Med
                Massachusetts Medical Society
                March 14 1996
                March 14 1996
                : 334
                : 11
                : 693-700
                © 1996


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