Nonsurgical options for hepatocellular carcinoma: evolving role of external beam radiotherapy

Cancer Control. 2010 Apr;17(2):100-10. doi: 10.1177/107327481001700205.


Background: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the sixth most common cancer worldwide and thus poses a global concern. Its incidence is expected to increase in North America secondary to the increasing incidence of patients who develop hepatitis C. Patients who ultimately develop cirrhosis have an increased risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma.

Methods: The authors focus on nonsurgical therapies for this disease with an exploration of how external beam radiotherapy can be used alone or with other modalities. The development of partial liver strategies secondary to an explosion in radiation treatment planning and delivery advances is reviewed. Integration of advanced technology has evolved from three-dimensional conformal treatment to intensity-modulated radiation therapy and image-guided radiation therapy, along with stereotactic body radiation therapy, tomotherapy, and proton beam therapy.

Results: Current data show a promising future for treatment strategies incorporating radiation with high rates of infield tumor control and low rates of radiation-induced liver disease. Radiation can be delivered in conjunction with transarterial catheter embolization for advanced-stage patients. External beam radiotherapy also has a role in the setting of patients with macrovascular tumor thrombus.

Conclusions: Future directions include how to best synergize the effects of radiation strategies with novel agents, given the hypervascularity of HCC. Downstaging of larger lesions with these therapies to resectable or transplantable disease may lead to better outcomes for patients deemed inoperable at diagnosis, and definitive radiotherapy may offer cure to patients with smaller lesions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / radiotherapy*
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated*