We previously reported encouraging results of down-staging of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) to meet conventional T2 criteria (one lesion 2-5 cm or two to three lesions <3 cm) for orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) in 30 patients as a test of concept. In this ongoing prospective study, we analyzed longer-term outcome data on HCC down-staging in a larger cohort of 61 patients with tumor stage exceeding T2 criteria who were enrolled between June 2002 and January 2007. Eligibility criteria for down-staging included: (1) one lesion >5 cm and up to 8 cm; (2) two to three lesions with at least one lesion >3 cm and not exceeding 5 cm, with total tumor diameter up to 8 cm; or (3) four to five lesions with none >3 cm, with total tumor diameter up to 8 cm. A minimum observation period of 3 months after down-staging was required before OLT. Tumor down-staging was successful in 43 patients (70.5%). Thirty-five patients (57.4%) had received OLT, including two who had undergone live-donor liver transplantation. Treatment failure was observed in 18 patients (29.5%), primarily due to tumor progression. In the explant of 35 patients who underwent OLT, 13 had complete tumor necrosis, 17 met T2 criteria, and five exceeded T2 criteria. The Kaplan-Meier intention-to-treat survival at 1 and 4 years after down-staging were 87.5% and 69.3%, respectively. The 1-year and 4-year posttransplantation survival rates were 96.2% and 92.1%, respectively. No patient had HCC recurrence after a median posttransplantation follow-up of 25 months. The only factor predicting treatment failure was pretreatment alpha-fetoprotein >1,000 ng/mL.
Conclusion: Successful down-staging of HCC can be achieved in the majority of carefully selected patients and is associated with excellent posttransplantation outcome.