Repeated radiofrequency ablation for management of patients with cirrhosis with small hepatocellular carcinomas: A long-term cohort study


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.

  • The study was conducted with unrestricted research funds from the IRCCS Policlinico San Matteo Foundation, Pavia, Italy. The sponsor had no role in designing the study; enrolling participants; collecting, analyzing, or interpreting the data; writing the report; or deciding to submit the article for publication


In most patients with cirrhosis, successful percutaneous ablation or surgical resection of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is followed by recurrence. Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) has proven effective for treating HCC nodules, but its repeatability in managing recurrences and the impact of this approach on survival has not been evaluated. To this end, we retrospectively analyzed a prospective series of 706 patients with cirrhosis (Child-Pugh class ≤B7) who underwent RFA for 859 HCC ≤35 mm in diameter (1-2 per patient). The results of RFA were classified as complete responses (CRs) or treatment failures. CRs were obtained in 849 nodules (98.8%) and 696 patients (98.5%). During follow-up (median, 29 months), 465 (66.8%) of the 696 patients with CRs experienced a first recurrence at an incidence rate of 41 per 100 person-years (local recurrence 6.2; nonlocal 35). Cumulative incidences of first recurrence at 3 and 5 years were 70.8% and 81.7%, respectively. RFA was repeated in 323 (69.4%) of the 465 patients with first recurrence, restoring disease-free status in 318 (98.4%) cases. Subsequently, RFA was repeated in 147 (65.9%) of the 223 patients who developed a second recurrence after CR of the first, restoring disease-free status in 145 (98.6%) cases. Overall, there were 877 episodes of recurrence (1-8 per patient); 577 (65.8%) of these underwent RFA that achieved CRs in 557 (96.5%) cases. No procedure-related deaths occurred in 1,921 RFA sessions. Estimated 3- and 5-year overall and disease-free (after repeated RFAs) survival rates were 67.0% and 40.1% and 68.0 and 38.0%, respectively. Conclusion: RFA is safe and effective for managing HCC in patients with cirrhosis, and its high repeatability makes it particularly valuable for controlling intrahepatic recurrences. (HEPATOLOGY 2011)