Liver Transplantation for Hepatocellular Carcinoma: Five Steps to Prevent Recurrence


Christian Toso,


Liver transplantation is the best treatment of patients with unresectable early hepatocellular carcinoma, allowing disease-free survival rates of 60–80% at 5 years. Despite these good results, some 10% of recipients experience a posttransplant HCC recurrence, which leads to death in almost all patients. Recurrence is either due to the growth of occult metastases or to the engraftment of circulating tumor cells. It can be hypothesized that strategies to decrease the engraftment of circulating tumor cells could decrease the risk of recurrence and, in addition, extend access to transplantation to patients with more advanced HCC. These potential strategies can be schematized into five steps, including (1) selecting recipients with low baseline levels of circulating HCC cells, by adding biological markers (such as alpha fetoprotein or molecular signatures) to the accepted combination of morphological criteria; (2) decreasing the perioperative release of HCC cells, with careful perioperative handling of the tumors; (3) preventing the engraftment of circulating HCC cells by decreasing liver graft ischemia-reperfusion injury, which has been shown to promote cancer cell engraftment and growth; (4) using anticancer drugs, including mammalian target of rapamycin inhibitors and (5) tuning immunity toward HCC clearance.