In the treatment of hepatocellular carcinomas, therapies such as trans-arterial chemo-embolisation, trans-arterial radioembolisation, percutaneous ethanol injection and radio-frequency ablation can decrease the size (and overall viability) of the tumours, thus potentially increasing the proportion of patients qualifying for resection and transplantation. While the use of such downstaging therapies is straightforward when resection is the aim, in a similar way to other neo-adjuvant treatments in the surgery of tumours that are too large or awkwardly placed to be primarily resected the issues related to transplantation are more complex. In the context of transplantation the word "downstaging" designates not only a neo-adjuvant treatment, but also a selection strategy to allow patients who are initially outside accepted listing criteria to benefit from transplantation should the neo-adjuvant therapy be successful in reducing tumour burden. The effectiveness of downstaging as a selection strategy, at first questioned because of methodological bias in the studies that described it, has been recently demonstrated by more solid prospective investigations. Several issues however remain open, such as inclusion criteria before the strategy is implemented (size/number, surrogate markers of differentiation/vascular invasion such as alpha-fetoprotein), the choice of which downstaging therapy, the end-points of treatment, and the need and duration of a period of observation proving disease response or stabilisation before the patient can be listed. The present review discusses which treatments and strategies are available for downstaging HCC on the basis of the published literature.
Copyright 2010 European Association for the Study of the Liver. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.