Abstract: Background: Recurrence is the most frequent cause of treatment failure after hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) resection. Salvage liver transplantation is an alternative treatment for recurrent HCC. The transplantability for patients with recurrent HCC has not been well studied.
Study design: This study sought to determine how many patients with recurrent HCC are still candidates for liver transplantation, and to ascertain the possible time from HCC recurrence to the loss of transplantability. In an university hospital setting, 154 of the 252 patients receiving primary HCC resection, from January 1992 through December 1996, had recurrence and were analyzed. The mean follow-up time was 6 years. Among the 154 patients, 74 patients (group 1) were not eligible for liver transplantation according to the Milan criteria, while 80 patients were eligible (group 2). Demographic characteristics of both groups were compared and the curve of transplantability was calculated.
Results: When compared with group 1 patients, group 2 patients displayed more cirrhosis (p = 0.007), lower pTNM stage (p = 0.004), were older (p = 0.004), presented with smaller tumors (p < 0.001), and displayed a longer disease-free interval (p < 0.001). In group 1, only 47% (35/74) patients were eligible for liver transplantation at the time of index hepatectomy, in contrast to 84% (67/80) in the group 2 patients, p < 0.001. The median time from HCC recurrence to the time they were no longer transplantable was 38 months. The total time from the index HCC resection to the time of loss of transplantability was 83 months.
Conclusion: In a cohort of patients after resection for their primary HCC, 33% patients had no recurrence and were not in need for liver transplantation in a mean follow-up of 72 months. About 52% of the patients with recurrent HCC still meet the criteria for liver transplantation. For patients with some certain characteristics, resection of the primary HCC may postpone the time of liver transplantation and prolong the time in which a suitable donor searched, while primary liver transplantation may be considered for those patients with factors of low transplantability after recurrence.