Purpose: To review the treatment of cirrhotic patients with hepatocellular carcinoma in the era of liver transplantation and to determine the most appropriate approach to the treatment of patients at different stages of disease.
Data Sources: A MEDLINE search of English-language articles published between 1981 and 1997 and the clinical experience of the Mount Sinai Liver Transplant Program.
Study Selection: Selected studies were 1) original articles reporting results of resection and transplantation in the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma in cirrhotic patients and 2) initial reports from major transplantation centers of multimethod therapies combining chemotherapy with transplantation.
Data Extraction: Study designs were assessed with careful attention to methods and aims. Relevant data on patient population, tumor stage distribution, treatment, survival, and rate of recurrent disease were extracted and analyzed.
Data Synthesis: Options for the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma in cirrhotic patients vary according to tumor stage and severity of underlying liver disease. Resection remains an important method primarily in eastern countries, where the screening of high-risk populations has been associated with early detection of small asymptomatic lesions. Long-term survival after resection, however, is low. In western countries, liver transplantation is becoming the treatment of choice in patients with advanced cirrhosis and small, unresectable lesions; resection is reserved for cirrhotic patients with small, peripheral lesions and preserved hepatic function. Minimally invasive procedures (such as percutaneous ethanol injection and transarterial chemoembolization) have been developed to treat unresectable tumors. Transarterial chemoembolization may also be effective in patients with advanced cirrhosis and unresectable lesions who are awaiting transplantation.
Conclusions: The efficacy of liver transplantation for hepatocellular carcinoma has been proven mainly in patients with advanced cirrhosis and small lesions. Future studies may clarify the role of approaches combining neoadjuvant chemotherapy with transplantation for large (stage III) tumors.