Radiofrequency thermal ablation versus other interventions for hepatocellular carcinoma




Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most common malignant diseases worldwide. The only possibly curative therapeutic option is surgical resection. Due to impaired liver function and/or anatomical reasons only a low percentage of patients can be treated surgically. For the remainder, several non-surgical treatment approaches have been developed. In addition to percutaneous ethanol injection, transarterial interventions, and several medical interventions, radiofrequency thermal ablation has been investigated in coagulating HCC lesions.


To evaluate the effects of radiofrequency thermal ablation in HCC patients with respect to clinically relevant outcomes (mortality, rate of recurrences, adverse events, quality of life, and duration of hospital stay).

Search strategy

We searched The Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Trials Register, The Cochrane Controlled Trials Register on The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, Current Contents, EMBASE, and CancerLit until June 2001 and further handsearch was conducted. Reference lists of the identified articles were checked for further trials.

Selection criteria

All randomised or quasi-randomised clinical trials investigating radiofrequency thermal ablation versus placebo, no intervention, or any other therapeutic approach were considered for inclusion, regardless of blinding, language, and publication status.

Data collection and analysis

Trial inclusion, quality assessment, and data extraction were performed independently by two reviewers. Principal investigators were contacted for further information.

Main results

One randomised trial which is still ongoing and only published as an interim analysis was identified. This trial compared radiofrequency thermal ablation versus percutaneous ethanol injection in 102 patients with small HCC. With respect to mortality the trial showed no significant difference between the two treatments (relative risk = 0.19, 95% confidence interval 0.02 to 1.59). Concerning the recurrence free survival the trial demonstrated no significant superiority of radiofrequency thermal ablation versus percutaneous ethanol injection (relative risk = 0.70, 95% confidence interval 0.46 -1.04).

Reviewer's conclusions

At present, radiofrequency thermal ablation is an insufficiently studied intervention for HCC.

Plain language summary


Still awaiting evidence for effect of radiofrequency thermal ablation for the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma

Hepatocellular carcinoma is one of the most common malignancies worldwide. Due to advanced stage of the tumour in combination with impaired liver function (cirrhosis) only a minority of the patients can be treated by surgery. Several minimally invasive treatment techniques have been developed to treat patients with hepatocellular carcinoma. Among these is thermal ablation induced by radiofrequency. At present there is not sufficient evidence to recommend radiofrequency thermal ablation in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma but one promising trial is ongoing.