An active liver transplant programme for hepatocellular carcinoma in cirrhotic patients: is it justified?


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Abstract

Even at an early stage, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in patients with cirrhosis is often deemed unresectable because of limited liver reserve. In these circumstances, liver transplantation (LTx) offers some hope for palliation or cure. The results of LTx for selected cirrhotic patients with HCC were analysed. The outcomes were compared with those of patients who underwent LTx for other forms of hepatic malignancy and those who underwent LTx for non-malignant conditions. Four hundred and eighty LTx were performed in 441 patients between January 1986 and December 1998. Twenty-eight LTx recipients (25 males, 3 females) of mean age 51 (14-63) yr had cirrhosis and HCC. Twenty-seven patients had underlying predisposing conditions (11 had hepatitis B, 10 had hepatitis C, 2 had hepatitis B and C, 1 had haemochromatosis, 1 had autoimmune hepatitis, 1 had alcoholic cirrhosis and 1 had α-1 antitrypsin deficiency). In 22 patients, HCC was diagnosed pre-LTx, and in 6 patients, the cancers were discovered incidentally. The average tumour size and number were 2.8 (0.4-11.5) cm and 1.3 (1-4), respectively. Two patients with known HCC died during and shortly after the LTx operation. Of the other patients, 3 died; 1 died of HCC recurrence 18 months post-LTx, 1 died of graft failure from recurrent hepatitis C and 1 died of fungal sepsis. Twenty-three (82%) patients survived to 22.5 (0.5-96) months post-LTx without HCC recurrence and with 1- and 3-yr actuarial patient survival rates of 87 and 76%, respectively. Equivalent survival rates of patients who underwent LTx for other malignancies (n = 11) were 82 and 46% (p = NS), and for those who underwent LTx for benign causes (n = 402), they were 77 and 73% (p = NS). All 15 patients with known HCC, who met the selection criteria now in use, survived. LTx can result in prolonged, cancer-free survival in a good proportion of patients with cirrhosis and HCC, particularly when the cancers are incidental, or when diagnosed pre-LTx, conforming to established selection criteria. An active LTx programme for this group of patients is justified.

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