Surgical resection versus radiofrequency ablation for small hepatocellular carcinomas within the Milan criteria

Shinichi Ueno, Masahiko Sakoda, Fumitake Kubo, Kiyokazu Hiwatashi, Taro Tateno, Yoshiro Baba, Susumu Hasegawa, Hirohito Tsubouchi et al.
Journal of Hepato-biliary-pancreatic Surgery 2009, 16 (3): 359-66

BACKGROUND/PURPOSE: It has been reported that hepatic resection may be preferable to other modalities for the treatment of small hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs), by contributing to improved overall and disease-free survival. Ablation techniques such as radiofrequency ablation (RFA) have also been used as therapy for small HCCs; however, few studies have compared the two treatments based on long-term outcomes. The effectiveness of hepatic resection and RFA for small nodular HCCs within the Milan criteria were compared.

METHODS: A retrospective cohort study was performed with 278 consecutive patients who underwent curative hepatic resection (n = 123) or initial RFA percutaneously (n = 110) or surgically (thoracoscopic-, laparoscopic-, and open-approaches; n = 45) for HCC. The selection criteria for treatment were based on uniform criteria. Mortality related to therapy and 3- and 5-year overall and disease-free survivals were analyzed.

RESULTS: The model for endstage liver disease (MELD) scores for all patients in the series were less than 13. There were no therapy-related mortalities in either the hepatic resection or RFA groups. The incidence of death within 1 year after therapy (1.6 and 1.9%, respectively) was similar in the hepatic resection and RFA groups. The group that underwent hepatic resection showed a trend towards better survival (P = 0.06) and showed significantly better disease-free survival (P = 0.02) compared with the RFA group, although differences in liver functional reserve existed. The advantage of hepatic resection was more evident for patients with single tumors and patients with grade A liver damage. In contrast, patients with multinodular tumors survived longer when treated with RFA, regardless of the grade of liver damage. Further analysis showed that surgical RFA could potentially have survival benefits similar to those of hepatic resection for single tumors, and that surgical RFA had the highest efficacy for treating multinodular tumors.

CONCLUSIONS: In patients with small HCCs within the Milan criteria, hepatic resection should still be employed for those patients with a single tumor and well-preserved liver function. RFA should be chosen for patients with an unresectable single tumor or those with multinodular tumors, regardless of the grade of liver damage. In order to increase long-term oncological control, surgical RFA seems preferable to percutaneous RFA, if the patient's condition allows them to tolerate surgery.

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