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Abstract

Two treatments are accepted for patients with solitary hepatocellular carcinoma ≤5 cm in size and with preserved hepatic function: (1) liver resection, which can be performed without delay but has a high recurrence rate, and (2) liver transplantation, which has a better long-term survival, but is not easily available because grafts are scarce. A third possibility is to offer liver resection first and liver transplantation for tumor recurrence or deteriorating liver function (“salvage” transplantation). We investigated the implications of such a strategy with a Markov-based decision analytic model. In a scenario assuming intermediate values for 4 main variables (12-month waiting list; tumor progression outside transplantation criteria: 4% per month; recurrence after resection: 20% per year; recurrences eligible for transplantation: 60%), the life expectancy was 8.8 years for primary transplantation versus 7.8 years for primary resection and salvage transplantation, with a calculated use of grafts at 5 years of 52% for primary transplantation versus 23% for salvage transplantation. This study estimates of the survival and graft-saving of a strategy of primary resection and salvage transplantation according to variables that are to some extent predictable. This strategy may be a rational way to cope with lengthening waiting lists, especially for patients with tumors close to the limit for transplantation criteria, if the results of liver resection are good, if patients with the lowest risks of recurrence can be selected, and if a strict follow-up can detect recurrences when the patients are still transplantable.