Long-term survival and pattern of recurrence after resection of small hepatocellular carcinoma in patients with preserved liver function: implications for a strategy of salvage transplantation

Ann Surg. 2002 Mar;235(3):373-82. doi: 10.1097/00000658-200203000-00009.


Objective: To evaluate the survival results and pattern of recurrence after resection of potentially transplantable small hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC) in patients with preserved liver function, with special reference to the implications for a strategy of salvage transplantation.

Summary background data: Primary resection followed by transplantation for recurrence or deterioration of liver function has been recently suggested as a rational strategy for patients with HCC 5 cm or smaller and preserved liver function. However, there are no published data on transplantability after HCC recurrence or long-term deterioration of liver function after resection of small HCC in Child-Pugh class A patients. Such data are critical in determining the feasibility of salvage transplantation.

Methods: From a prospective database of 473 patients with resection of HCC between 1989 and 1999, 135 patients age 65 years or younger had Child-Pugh class A chronic liver disease (chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis) and transplantable small HCC (solitary < or =5 cm or two or three tumors < or = 3 cm). Survival results were analyzed and the pattern of recurrence was examined for eligibility for salvage transplantation based on the same criteria as those of primary transplantation for HCC.

Results: Overall survival rates at 1, 3, 5, and 10 years were 90%, 76%, 70%, and 35%, respectively, and the corresponding disease-free survival rates were 74%, 50%, 36%, and 22%. Cirrhosis and oligonodular tumors were predictive of worse disease-free survival. Patients with concomitant oligonodular tumors and cirrhosis had a 5-year overall survival rate of 48% and a disease-free survival rate of 0%, which were significantly worse compared with other subgroups. At a median follow-up of 48 months, 67 patients had recurrence and 53 (79%) of them were considered eligible for salvage transplantation. Decompensation from Child-Pugh class A to B or C without recurrence occurred in only six patients.

Conclusions: For Child-Pugh class A patients with small HCC, hepatic resection is a reasonable first-line treatment associated with a favorable 5-year overall survival rate. A considerable proportion of patients may survive without recurrence for 5 or even 10 years; among those with recurrence, the majority may be eligible for salvage transplantation. These data suggest that primary resection and salvage transplantation may be a feasible and rational strategy for patients with small HCC and preserved liver function. Primary transplantation may be a preferable option for the subset of patients with oligonodular tumors in cirrhotic liver in view of the poor survival results after resection.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / mortality*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / surgery*
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Hepatectomy*
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Liver Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Liver Transplantation*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Salvage Therapy
  • Survival Analysis