Orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) has been considered the best treatment option for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Because of a steadily increasing waiting time, a noteworthy proportion of patients are excluded from OLT because of tumor progression. A 20% and more dropout rate from the waiting list has recently been reported. In this prospective study, we evaluated the effect of preoperative transarterial chemoembolization (TACE) on preventing tumor progression while on the waiting list in patients meeting current selection criteria (solitary lesion ≤ 5 cm, three lesions ≤ 3 cm). In addition, we analyzed the outcome of a separate group of patients with advanced-stage HCC outside the selection criteria but with at least 50% tumor reduction after TACE (downstaging) to expand current criteria. Forty-eight patients met the selection criteria and were eligible for this study. Seven patients are still on the waiting list; 41 underwent OLT. None of these patients had to be removed from the list because of tumor progression after a mean waiting time of 178 days (23 patients ≥180 days). The 1-, 2-, and 5-year intention-to-treat survival was 98%, 98%, and 94%. The outcome after OLT was also excellent with 1-, 2-, and 5-year survival rates of 98%, 98%, and 93%. Tumor recurrence occurred only in 1 patient (2.4%). Fifteen patients with advanced-stage HCC were included in this study. Three developed a tumor progression and had to be removed from the list (20% dropout rate). Despite tumor reduction before OLT, these patients had a significantly less favorable outcome in the intention-to-treat analysis as well as in the posttransplantation survival. Tumor recurrence was seen in 30% of patients after OLT. In conclusion, TACE followed by OLT is associated with an excellent outcome in selected patients. Furthermore, TACE is highly efficacious in preventing tumor progression while waiting for OLT. Although TACE reduced tumor preoperatively, it failed to show a beneficial effect on patient survival in advanced-stage HCCs.
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