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Network meta-analysis of the prognosis of curative treatment strategies for recurrent hepatocellular carcinoma after hepatectomy.

BACKGROUND: Recurrent hepatocellular carcinoma (rHCC) is a common outcome after curative treatment. Retreatment for rHCC is recommended, but no guidelines exist.

AIM: To compare curative treatments such as repeated hepatectomy (RH), radiofrequency ablation (RFA), transarterial chemoembolization (TACE) and liver transplantation (LT) for patients with rHCC after primary hepatectomy by conducting a network meta-analysis (NMA).

METHODS: From 2011 to 2021, 30 articles involving patients with rHCC after primary liver resection were retrieved for this NMA. The Q test was used to assess heterogeneity among studies, and Egger's test was used to assess publication bias. The efficacy of rHCC treatment was assessed using disease-free survival (DFS) and overall survival (OS).

RESULTS: From 30 articles, a total of 17, 11, 8, and 12 arms of RH, RFA, TACE, and LT subgroups were collected for analysis. Forest plot analysis revealed that the LT subgroup had a better cumulative DFS and 1-year OS than the RH subgroup, with an odds ratio (OR) of 0.96 (95%CI: 0.31-2.96). However, the RH subgroup had a better 3-year and 5-year OS compared to the LT, RFA, and TACE subgroups. Hierarchic step diagram of different subgroups measured by the Wald test yielded the same results as the forest plot analysis. LT had a better 1-year OS (OR: 1.04, 95%CI: 0.34-03.20), and LT was inferior to RH in 3-year OS (OR: 10.61, 95%CI: 0.21-1.73) and 5-year OS (OR: 0.95, 95%CI: 0.39-2.34). According to the predictive P score evaluation, the LT subgroup had a better DFS, and RH had the best OS. However, meta-regression analysis revealed that LT had a better DFS ( P < 0.001) as well as 3-year OS ( P = 0.881) and 5-year OS ( P = 0.188). The differences in superiority between DFS and OS were due to the different testing methods used.

CONCLUSION: According to this NMA, RH and LT had better DFS and OS for rHCC than RFA and TACE. However, treatment strategies should be determined by the recurrent tumor characteristics, the patient's general health status, and the care program at each institution.

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