Background & aims: Percutaneous radiofrequency ablation is a recently introduced treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma, whereas ethanol injection is now a standard therapy. We compared their long-term outcomes.
Methods: Two hundred thirty-two patients with hepatocellular carcinoma who had 3 or fewer lesions, each 3 cm or less in diameter, and liver function of Child-Pugh class A or B were entered onto a randomized controlled trial. The primary end point was survival, and the secondary end points were overall recurrence and local tumor progression.
Results: One hundred eighteen patients were assigned to radiofrequency ablation and 114 to ethanol injection. The number of treatment sessions was smaller (2.1 times vs 6.4 times, respectively, P < .0001) and the length of hospitalization was shorter (10.8 days vs 26.1 days, respectively, P < .0001) in radiofrequency ablation than in ethanol injection. Four-year survival rate was 74% (95% CI: 65%-84%) in radiofrequency ablation and 57% (95% CI: 45%-71%) in ethanol injection. Radiofrequency ablation had a 46% smaller risk of death (adjusted relative risk, 0.54 [95% CI: 0.33-0.89], P = .02), a 43% smaller risk of overall recurrence (adjusted relative risk 0.57 [95% CI: 0.41-0.80], P = .0009), and an 88% smaller risk of local tumor progression (relative risk, 0.12 [95% CI: 0.03-0.55], P = .006) than ethanol injection. The incidence of adverse events was not different between the 2 therapies.
Conclusions: Judging from higher survival but similar adverse events, radiofrequency ablation is superior to ethanol injection for small hepatocellular carcinoma.