Hepatocellular carcinoma recurrence after liver transplantation: Risk factors, screening and clinical presentation

World J Hepatol. 2019 Mar 27;11(3):261-272. doi: 10.4254/wjh.v11.i3.261.


Liver transplantation is the best treatment option for cirrhotic patients with early-stage hepatocellular carcinoma, but it faces the problem of scarcity of donors and the risk of tumor recurrence, which affects between 15% and 20% of the cases, despite the use of restrictive criteria. The risk of recurrence depends on a number of factors, related to the tumor, the patient, and the treatment, which are discussed in this review. Some of these factors are already well established, such as the histopathological characteristics of the tumor, Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels, and waiting time. Other factors related to the biological behavior of the tumor and treatment should be recognized because they can be used in the refinement of the selection criteria of transplant candidates and in an attempt to reduce recurrence. This review also discusses the clinical presentation of recurrence and its prognosis, contributing to the identification of a subgroup of patients who may have better survival, if they are timely identified and treated. Development of recurrence after the first year, with AFP levels ≤ 100 ng/mL, and single site capable of locoregional therapy are associated with better survival after recurrence.

Keywords: Alpha-fetoprotein; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Liver transplantation; Prognosis; Recurrence; Risk factors; Survival.

Publication types

  • Review