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Beyond Milan criteria – chances and risks of expanding transplantation criteria for HCC patients with liver cirrhosis


Corresponding author: Dr. med Tom M Ganten, Department of Gastroenterology, Internal Medicine, University of Heidelberg, INF 410, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany.
Tel.: +49 6221 56-38737; fax: +49 6221 56-33663;


Abstract:  Orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) is, apart from resection, one important curative treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in liver cirrhosis, and especially attractive because it eliminates both the tumor and the underlying liver disease. The application of restrictive inclusion criteria for OLT in HCC patients resulted in favorable long-term recurrence-free survival. These criteria, however, exclude a subgroup of patients which, despite advanced tumor size, demonstrate an acceptable outcome. As a consequence, expansion of the strict Milan criteria has been discussed. However, this will also deteriorate the average outcome of OLT in HCC patients. Considering that we run short of donor organs, more sophisticated prediction models for survival after OLT for HCC patients are needed to identify patients who benefit best from OLT. Neoadjuvant treatment that is frequently applied as a bridging technique for patients on the waiting list for OLT could provide useful information on tumor behavior to better predict the risk of post-OLT tumor recurrence. This might also allow expansion of the Milan criteria to patients with good response to downstaging methods without negatively affecting post-OLT survival. Furthermore, alternative scoring systems have been suggested to identify HCC patients that might still benefit from resection instead of OLT, and molecular tools are being explored to provide predictive information on HCC biology. This review discusses the advantages and risks of extended inclusion criteria for OLT and the currently available data on alternative prediction models and bridging methods in HCC patients.