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Postoperative surveillance with monthly serum tumor markers after living-donor liver transplantation for hepatocellular carcinoma


Associate Professor Yasuhiko Sugawara, Artificial Organ and Transplantation Division, Department of Surgery, Graduate School of Medicine, University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8655, Japan. Email:


Aim:  Recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) after liver transplantation decreases patient survival. The usefulness of post-transplant surveillance with tumor markers, however, is not clear. We evaluated our cumulative experience with recurrent HCC detected during post-transplant surveillance.

Methods:  We analyzed 100 patients with HCC detected in the explanted liver. Monthly to bimonthly measurement of tumor markers and yearly computed tomography were scheduled postoperatively.

Results:  Preoperatively, 82 met the Milan criteria. The histological findings indicated that 61 fulfilled the Milan criteria. In nine patients, HCC recurred 10 months (2–29) after liver transplantation in the graft (n = 1), lung (n = 2), bone (n = 3) and multiple organs (n = 3). In all nine recipients, HCC was first suspected based on an increase in tumor marker levels. Recurrent HCC was confirmed by computed tomography (n = 7) or magnetic resonance imaging (n = 2) within 4 months (0–6) after first identifying an increase in the tumor marker levels. Six cases were treated surgically, two of which achieved prolonged survival of 16 and 38 months.

Conclusion:  Frequent measurement of α-fetoprotein and des-γ carboxy prothrombin was useful for detecting recurrent HCC and may be useful long-term follow-up markers for post-transplant surveillance.

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