Background: Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) use among patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has increased dramatically over the last decade, but assessments outside specialized centers are lacking. This population-based study was intended to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of RFA when used to treat HCC.
Methods: A cohort study of HCC patients (diagnosed 2002-2005) was performed using linked Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Medicare data. Early (≤90-day) mortality and readmission as well as survival among patients undergoing RFA, resection, or no treatment were compared using multivariate and propensity score adjusted Poisson and Cox regression models.
Results: Of 2631 patients (mean age 76.1±6.1 years, 65.9% male), 16% underwent RFA (49.6%) or resection (50.4%). Early mortality (13.6 vs. 18.7%, P=.16) and readmission (34.5 vs. 32.1%, P=.60) rates were similar among RFA and resection patients. The 1-year survival after RFA and resection was similar (72.2 vs. 79.7%, P=.18), but beyond 3 years there was a survival benefit among patients undergoing resection (39.2 vs. 58.0%, P<.001). Patients treated with RFA as a sole therapeutic intervention in the 1st year had a similar hazard of death compared with untreated patients (hazard ratio [HR] 0.84, 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 0.54-1.33).
Conclusions: In the general community, patients treated with RFA have a similar risk of early adverse events compared with those treated with resection with no clear survival benefit when used as a sole intervention. Although RFA has been described as a safe and effective treatment for HCC at specialized centers, this experience may not extrapolate to the general community and requires further evaluation.