Treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma: beyond international guidelines


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Abstract

Treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is guided by the tumour stage. The Barcelona clinical liver cancer (BCLC) score endorsed by the European Society of the Liver EASL divides patients into five prognostic categories, each with a distinct treatment indication. Hepatic resection, orthotopic liver transplantation and percutaneous local ablation are strongly indicated in accurately selected patients with very early (BCLC 0) and early stage (BCLC A) tumours providing a survival rate of between 50 and 75% at year five. In patients with a large tumour burden such as those with intermediate stage BCLC B, repeated treatments with transarterial chemoembolization (TACE) are advocated with clinical benefits (from 16 to 22 months). Survival may also improve in patients who are in poor condition or who do not respond to TACE and those with an advanced HCC (BCLC C), following oral therapy with the multikinase inhibitor, sorafenib. However, most recommendations are based on uncontrolled studies and expert opinions rather than well-designed controlled trials, and up to one-third of patients do not fit recommendations because of advanced age, the presence of significant comorbidities or a strategic location of the nodule. For these patients, treatment of HCC beyond guidelines is often advocated.

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