Hormonal treatment of human hepatocellular carcinoma

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006 Nov;1089:252-61. doi: 10.1196/annals.1386.007.


Animal models of experimental liver carcinogenesis and epidemiological studies in humans suggest a relationship between sex hormones and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In 1997, a systematic review of the existing, small randomized trials evaluating the antiestrogen tamoxifen yielded a positive result, but the large randomized CLIP-1 trial showed no survival advantage from the addition of tamoxifen to best supportive care. A possible explanation for the negative results is the lack of patient selection, but the expression of estrogen (ER) and progesterone (PgR) receptors in HCC does not clearly affect the survival outcome of the patients treated with tamoxifen. In the last years, it has been proposed that negative results might be due to the fact that tamoxifen in HCC could act via an ER-independent pathway, which requires much higher doses than those usually administered, but a double-blind Asian randomized trial conducted to assess possible dose-response effect showed no efficacy for tamoxifen, with an inversely negative impact with increasing dose. According to the results of large trials and of the Cochrane systematic review, neither further trials are warranted with tamoxifen in HCC, nor should any use in clinical practice be considered. Interesting results have been obtained when the type of hormonal treatment (tamoxifen or megestrol) has been chosen according to the presence of wild-type or variant ER, but these results should be confirmed in large randomized trials. Negative results have been obtained with antiandrogen therapy. In conclusion, hormonal treatment should not be a part of the current management of HCC patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Androgen Antagonists / adverse effects
  • Androgen Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / drug therapy*
  • Estrogen Antagonists / adverse effects
  • Estrogen Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Failure
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Androgen Antagonists
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Estrogen Antagonists