Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2011; 34: 196–204


Background  Transarterial chemoembolisation (TACE) is first-line treatment in unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and rescue treatment after failure of radical treatments in early stage HCC. Prognostic tools for HCC using time-fixed Cox models may be unreliable in patients treated with TACE because time-varying predictors interact.

Aim  To explore time-dependent variables as survival predictors in patients with HCC receiving TACE as first-line or second-line treatment.

Methods  Eighty four consecutive patients with HCC (mean age 68; male gender 62%; Child-Pugh class: A n = 73, B n = 11; Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer class: A n = 44, B n = 24, C n = 16) treated with TACE were enrolled. Clinical, laboratory and radiological follow-up data were collected from the time of first treatment. Time-fixed and time-dependent Cox analyses were done.

Results  Overall survival rates were 89.6% (95% CI 82.5–97.2) at 12 months, 58.8% (95% CI 46.2–74.9) at 24, 35.4% (95% CI 22.3–56.1) at 36 and 17.2% (95% CI 7.0–41.7) at 48 months. Performance status (P < 0.001), number of nodules (P < 0.016) and prior therapy (P = 0.017) were the only variables strongly linked to survival by time-fixed Cox model. Performance status (P < 0.001), prior therapy (P = 0.005), number of treatments (P = 0.013), complete response after TACE (P = 0.005) and bilirubin level (P < 0.001) were associated with survival using a time-dependent Cox model.

Conclusions  Survival after TACE is influenced most by performance status, complete response and bilirubin. Compared with the time-fixed models, a time-dependent Cox model has the potential to estimate a more precise prognosis in HCC patients treated with TACE.