Treatment of small hepatocellular carcinomas

Lancet. 1992 Aug 1;340(8814):285-8. doi: 10.1016/0140-6736(92)92367-o.


There is growing interest in screening to detect symptomless hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), which should be easier to treat than symptomatic tumours. Combined alpha-fetoprotein and ultrasound monitoring can detect HCCs of 1 cm, and Lipiodol retention can be detected in tumours smaller than 1 cm. A number of treatment options are available. Surgical resection may be curative in selected patients with a single small tumour, but the cirrhotic patient is left with a diseased liver and the risk of tumour recurrence or death from underlying liver dysfunction. Orthotopic liver transplantation is a rational treatment for patients with decompensating cirrhosis and a small HCC, but it is expensive and necessitates immunosuppression. A variety of targeted or local therapies, either individually or in combination, can be used to treat HCC. These include percutaneous alcohol injection into an HCC, which may be an alternative to surgical resection. Tumour necrosis can be seen after targeted Lipiodol chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Transcatheter arterial embolisation selectively embolises the feeding artery, and can be combined with Lipiodol chemotherapy. Small tumours are thus amenable to treatment, even in patients who cannot have surgery. Screening and treatment for symptomless HCC seems justified, unless controlled trials teach us differently.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / radiotherapy
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / therapy*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Embolization, Therapeutic
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Liver Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Liver Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Prognosis


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Ethanol