Bridging Hepatocellular Carcinoma to Transplant: Transarterial Chemoembolization Response, Tumor Biology, and Recurrence after Transplantation in a 12-Year Transplant Cohort

J Vasc Interv Radiol. 2019 Jul;30(7):995-1003. doi: 10.1016/j.jvir.2018.12.736. Epub 2019 May 17.


Purpose: To evaluate tumor response to transarterial chemoembolization as well as biologic characteristics of the tumor as predictors of recurrence after transplantation in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) who were bridged or down-staged to liver transplantation.

Materials and methods: An institutional review board-approved, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-compliant, single-institution retrospective analysis was performed on all patients with HCC who were treated with the use of conventional transarterial chemoembolization or transarterial chemoembolization with drug-eluting embolics (DEE) over a 12-year period and who subsequently underwent liver transplantation (n = 142). Treatment response was based on modified Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors (mRECIST) imaging criteria and then correlated with tumor characteristics and recurrence. Of the 142 patients followed after transplantation, 127 had imaging after transarterial chemoembolization but before transplantation. Imaging response and post-transplantation recurrence were correlated with patient demographics, liver function, and tumor morphology. HCC recurred in 9 patients (mean time from transplantation, 526 days). Recurrence was analyzed with the use of univariate and multivariate statistics. Kaplan-Meier recurrence-free survival curves were calculated based on immediate imaging response before transplantation with the use of the log-rank test.

Results: Before transplantation, 57% of patients (72/127) demonstrated complete response (CR) and 24% (31/127) showed partial response (PR). Complete pathologic necrosis occurred in 54% (39/72) of CR patients and 20% (6/31) of PR patients. Poor treatment response, defined as stable disease (SD) or progressive disease (PD), occurred in 18% of patients (24/127) before transplantation and was present in 67% of cases of recurrence (6/9; P < .001). Post-transplantation recurrence was present in 1.4% of patients (1/71) with CR and in 6.5% of patients (2/31) with PR. In patients with SD after transarterial chemoembolization, HCC recurred in 18.8% of transplant patients (3/16) and in 43% of patients (3/7) with PD. Larger pretreatment tumor size (P = .05), higher Child-Pugh score (P = .002), higher tumor grade at explantation (P = .04), and lymphovascular invasion at explantation (P = .008) also were associated with increased incidence of post-transplantation recurrence.

Conclusions: Poor tumor response to transarterial chemoembolization before transplantation identifies patients at increased risk for post-transplantation recurrence.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / diagnostic imaging
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / therapy*
  • Chemoembolization, Therapeutic* / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Liver Transplantation* / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Progression-Free Survival
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Tumor Burden