Accuracy of Staging as a Predictor for Recurrence After Liver Transplantation for Hepatocellular Carcinoma

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Tumor number, size, and macrovascular invasion (MacroVI) are the most widely used predictors of survival after liver transplantation (LT) for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). We analyzed all patients undergoing LT for HCC at our center to establish the accuracy of preoperative clinical staging and to determine which patients have a higher probability of being understaged.


In all, 118 patients with confirmed HCC after LT from April 1991 to October 2004 at our institution were reviewed. All patients were monitored with serial imaging every 3 months to ensure their eligibility for LT within Milan criteria. Understaging in the 118 patients was defined as evidence on explant pathology that Milan criteria (TNM stage pT1 or pT2) had been exceeded.


Five-year DFS was 78% with a recurrence rate of 15% after a median follow-up after LT of 30 months. On explant pathology, 43% (51/118) of patients exceeded Milan criteria and had a worse DFS (1 year, 95% vs. 87%; 3 year, 87% vs. 64%; P=0.03) compared to those who met LT criteria. Understaging was more likely in patients with imaging characteristics of ≥2 tumor nodules (P=0.005) and tumor growth >0.25 cm/month (P=0.02) and pathologic findings of vascular invasion (P=0.001) and bilobar tumors (P=0.002).


Preoperative imaging every 3 months while on the waiting list frequently understages HCC as assessed by explant pathology. Recurrence after LT often occurred in patients that were understaged. Improving the accuracy of clinical staging and inclusion parameters will ensure proper organ allocation and acceptable outcomes after LT.

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