No adequate randomized trials have been reported for a comparison between hepatic resection (HR) versus radiofrequency ablation (RFA) for the treatment of patients with very early stage hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), defined as an asymptomatic solitary HCC <2 cm. For compensated cirrhotic patients with very early stage HCC, a Markov model was created to simulate a randomized trial between HR (group I) versus primary percutaneous RFA followed by HR for cases of initial local failure (group II) versus percutaneous RFA monotherapy (group III); each arm was allocated with a hypothetical cohort of 10,000 patients. The primary endpoint was overall survival. The estimates of the variables were extracted from published articles after a systematic review. In the parameter estimations, we assumed the best scenario for HR and the worst scenario for RFA. The mean expected survival was 7.577 years, 7.564 years, and 7.356 years for group I, group II, and group III, respectively. One-way sensitivity analysis demonstrated that group II was the preferred strategy if the perioperative mortality rate was greater than 1.0%, if the probability of local recurrence following an initial complete ablation was <1.9% or if the positive microscopic resection margin rate was >0.3%. The 95% confidence intervals for the difference in overall survival were -0.18-0.18 years between group I and II, 0.06-0.36 years between group I and III, and 0.13-0.30 years between group II and III, respectively.
Conclusion: Primary percutaneous RFA followed by HR for cases of initial local failure was nearly identical to HR for the overall survival of compensated cirrhotic patients with very early stage HCC.