Current approach to down-staging of hepatocellular carcinoma prior to liver transplantation

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Purpose of review

Orthotopic liver transplantation is currently the best curative treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma within conventional Milan criteria. Recent data have suggested that modest expansion of tumor size limits could still preserve acceptable long-term recurrence-free survival. Down-staging of hepatocellular carcinoma initially exceeding conventional criteria for transplantation provides a unique perspective on tumor biology in that those with more favorable tumor biology are more likely to be successfully down-staged and do well after transplantation. This article reviews the principles and published data on down-staging of hepatocellular carcinoma prior to orthotopic liver transplantation.

Recent findings

Several groups have examined the use of loco-regional therapy such as chemoembolization and radiofrequency ablation for tumor down-staging before Orthotopic liver transplantation. According to the latest results from the University of California, San Francisco involving 61 patients with hepatocellular carcinoma exceeding Milan criteria but meeting specific criteria for tumor size and number, 70% were successfully down-staged to within Milan criteria by an intention-to-treat analysis, with no posttransplant recurrence and a 4-year posttransplant survival of 92%.


Strictly defined upper limits of tumor size and number for patient inclusion, as well as criteria for response to loco-regional therapy, are essential in achieving excellent posttransplant outcome following tumor down-staging.

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