Objective: To evaluate the current knowledge on the risk factors for recurrence, efficacy of adjuvant therapy in preventing recurrence, and the optimal management of recurrence after resection of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Summary background data: The long-term prognosis after resection of HCC remains unsatisfactory as a result of a high incidence of recurrence. Prevention and effective management of recurrence are the most important strategies to improve the long-term survival results.
Methods: A review of relevant English articles was undertaken based on a Medline search from January 1980 to July 1999.
Results: Pathologic factors indicative of tumor invasiveness such as venous invasion, presence of satellite nodules, large tumor size, and advanced pTNM stage, are the best-established risk factors for recurrence. Active hepatitis activity in the nontumorous liver and perioperative transfusion also appear to enhance recurrence. Recent molecular research has identified tumor biologic factors such as the proliferative and angiogenic activities of the tumor as new risk factors for recurrence. There is a lack of convincing evidence for the efficacy of neoadjuvant or adjuvant therapy in preventing recurrence. Retrospective studies suggested that postoperative hepatic arterial chemotherapy might improve disease-free survival, but results were conflicting. For the management of postoperative recurrence, studies have consistently indicated that surgical resection should be the treatment of choice for localized recurrence, be it in the liver remnant or extrahepatic organs. Transarterial chemoembolization and percutaneous ethanol injection are widely used to prolong survival in patients with unresectable intrahepatic recurrence, and combined therapy with these two modalities may offer additional benefit.
Conclusions: Knowledge of the risk factors for postoperative recurrence provides a basis for logical approaches to prevention. Minimal surgical manipulation of tumors to prevent tumor cell dissemination, avoidance of perioperative blood transfusion, and suppression of chronic hepatitis activity in the liver remnant are strategies that may be useful in preventing recurrence. The efficacy of postoperative adjuvant regional chemotherapy deserves further evaluation. New concepts on the influence of tumor biologic factors such as angiogenic activity on recurrence of HCC suggest a potential role of novel approaches such as antiangiogenesis for adjuvant therapy in the future. Currently, the most realistic approach in prolonging survival after resection of HCC is early detection and aggressive management of recurrence. Randomized trials are needed to define the roles of various treatment modalities for recurrence and the benefit of multimodality therapy.