Recurrence of hepatocellular cancer after resection: patterns, treatments, and prognosis

Ann Surg. 2015 May;261(5):947-55. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000000710.


Objective: We sought to determine the factors associated with survival after recurrence of hepatocellular cancer (HCC) after resection and the outcome of our prospectively applied treatment protocol.

Background: Very little is known about the prognosis of HCC that recurs after resection and the outcomes associated with treatments applied to recurrent tumors.

Methods: A total of 661 HCC patients undergoing resection from January 1988 to January 2011 were reviewed to identify those with recurrence. Single recurrences with preserved liver function, and no portal hypertension were treated with resection. Patients with multiple intrahepatic tumors or poor liver function and no major comorbidities were listed for transplantation. Patients with up to 3 tumors, each 4 cm or smaller, and not eligible for transplantation, received ablation. Patients not eligible for ablation received embolization. Other treatments such as systemic therapy and radiation were used in remaining patients, but not in a systematic manner.

Results: Recurrent HCC developed in 356 (54%) patients at a median time of 22 months from primary resection. Median survival from time of recurrence to death was 21 months. Variables independently associated with survival from recurrence included time from primary resection to recurrence, alpha-fetoprotein more than 100 ng/mL at recurrence, recurrent tumor larger than 3 cm, BCLC stage at recurrence, and type of treatment rendered for the recurrence. All variables except treatment modality were significantly correlated with characteristics of the original primary tumor.

Conclusions: Most of the variables associated with outcome after recurrence are linked to the primary tumor at initial presentation. Nevertheless, meaningful survival can be achieved with appropriate treatment of recurrent tumors.

MeSH terms

  • Ablation Techniques
  • Algorithms
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / surgery*
  • Embolization, Therapeutic
  • Female
  • Hepatectomy
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / mortality
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local* / therapy
  • Prognosis
  • Reoperation
  • Survival Analysis
  • Time Factors