Analysis of risk factors for tumor recurrence after liver transplantation for hepatocellular carcinoma: key role of immunosuppression

Liver Transpl. 2005 May;11(5):497-503. doi: 10.1002/lt.20391.


To confirm recent observations about the relationship between immunosuppression and the recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) after liver transplantation (LT), we retrospectively analyzed 70 consecutive HCC patients who underwent LT and received cyclosporine (CsA)-based immunosuppression. CsA trough blood levels, measured with the same technique (fluorescence polarization immunoassay), were analyzed at different time points after transplantation. The exposure to the drug was calculated with the trapezoidal rule in each patient. CsA was associated with steroids in 26 patients and steroids and azathioprine in 44 patients. HCC recurred in 7 patients (10.0%). Different immunosuppressive schedules (CsA and steroids vs. CsA, steroids, and azathioprine) or the cumulative dosage of steroids and azathioprine did not influence HCC recurrence that was associated instead with CsA exposure (278.3 +/- 86.4 ng/mL in recurrent vs. 169.9 +/- 33.3 in tumor-free patients; P < 0.001); CsA exposure above 189.6 ng/mL was related to HCC recurrence at the receiver operating characteristic analysis (ROC). The relationship between CsA exposure; various clinical (sex, age, viral- vs. non-viral-related cirrhosis, preoperative vs. incidental diagnosis of HCC, alpha-fetoprotein [AFP] blood level), pathologic (pathologic tumor staging [pT] stage, presence of Milan criteria), and histologic (grading, presence of microvascular tumor invasion) parameters; and tumor recurrence were assessed. AFP (P = 0.032), microvascular tumor invasion (P = 0.044), and CsA exposure (P < 0.001) influenced recurrence-free survival at the univariate analysis; CsA exposure was the only independent prognostic determinant at multivariate analysis (P < 0.001). High CsA exposure favors tumor recurrence; CsA blood levels should be kept to the effective minimum in HCC patients. In the presence of pathologic and histologic risk factors, specific immunosuppressive protocols should be considered.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / epidemiology*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / surgery
  • Cyclosporine / adverse effects
  • Cyclosporine / blood
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Graft Rejection / drug therapy
  • Graft Rejection / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppression Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Immunosuppression Therapy / statistics & numerical data
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / blood
  • Liver Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / surgery
  • Liver Transplantation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / epidemiology*
  • ROC Curve
  • Risk Factors


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Cyclosporine