Liver transplantation for primary and metastatic liver cancers

Transpl Int. 2008 Dec;21(12):1107-17. doi: 10.1111/j.1432-2277.2008.00735.x. Epub 2008 Aug 15.


Liver transplantation for hepatic malignancies has emerged as a well-documented and proven treatment modality. However, early unsatisfactory results emphasized that only a highly selected patient population would benefit from transplantation. Currently, 15% of all liver transplants performed are for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). There is no controversy about the fact that liver transplantation for HCC in the adult population yields good results for patients whose tumour masses do not exceed the Milan criteria. It remains to be determined whether patients with more extensive tumours can be reliably selected to benefit from the procedure. In patients with small HCC at an early stage and preserved liver function, liver resection provides an alternative to transplant. Liver resection may offer similar survival results to orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) in the short term, and does not carry the long-term effects of immunosuppression; however, long-term and disease-free survival favours liver transplantation. Very promising results have been obtained for cholangiocarcinoma treated by aggressive combination therapies, including chemo- and radiotherapy followed by OLT. Survival rate in these selected patients can approach that of patients with cholestatic liver disease, and the role of transplantation now requires re-evaluation. Similarly, hepatoblastoma is an excellent indication in paediatric patients with unresectable or recurrent tumours. Epithelioid hemangioendothelioma is also an appropriate indication for liver transplantation, even in the presence of extrahepatic metastases, unlike angiosarcoma which is associated with a very poor survival and considered as a contraindication. And finally for metastatic liver disease from neuroendocrine tumours, liver transplantation can result in long-term survival and even cure in well selected patients. Conversely, the value of transplantation for colorectal liver metastases (currently a contraindication) requires further evaluation by well-designed trials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / surgery
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / surgery
  • Cholangiocarcinoma / surgery
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Hemangioendothelioma / surgery
  • Hemangiosarcoma / surgery
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / secondary
  • Liver Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Liver Transplantation* / mortality
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / surgery
  • Survival Analysis
  • Survivors
  • Treatment Outcome