Comparison of stereotactic body radiotherapy and radiofrequency ablation for hepatocellular carcinoma: Systematic review and meta-analysis of propensity score studies

Hepatol Res. 2021 Jul;51(7):813-822. doi: 10.1111/hepr.13647. Epub 2021 May 5.


Aim: Stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) is an emerging treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and has shown excellent local control (LC), as has radiofrequency ablation (RFA). As no randomized controlled trial has compared SBRT and RFA for HCC, data from a propensity score matched study (PSMS) are valuable. However, the results varied greatly and depended on composing factors of Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer staging (BCLC-factors) adjusted. Therefore, we undertook a systematic review and meta-analyses of the studies focusing on BCLC-factors matching.

Methods: We systematically searched PubMed, the Cochrane database, EMBASE, and Web of Science to identify studies comparing RFA and SBRT using propensity scores. The hazard ratios (HRs) of overall survival (OS) and LC from BCLC-factor-matched and -unmatched PSMS were pooled. Heterogeneity between the data from these studies was assessed.

Results: Three BCLC-factor-matched studies were identified. Stereotactic body radiotherapy led to comparable OS (HR, 0.89; 95% CI, 0.74-1.08; p = 0.24; I2 = 0%; p for heterogeneity, 0.56) and significantly better LC (HR, 0.39; 95% CI, 0.30-0.51; p < 0.001; I2 = 0%; p for heterogeneity, 0.67). We also identified three additional BCLC-factor-unmatched studies (HR of OS, 1.41; 95% CI, 1.21-1.65; p < 0.0001; I2 = 0%; p for heterogeneity, 0.63). However, considerable heterogeneity was observed for HR of OS between BCLC-factor-matched and -unmatched studies (I2 = 92.6%; p for heterogeneity, 0.0002).

Conclusions: When BCLC-factors were properly adjusted, the results of the meta-analysis revealed equivalent OS and better LC for SBRT compared with RFA. Stereotactic body radiotherapy could be an alternative treatment option for HCC.

Keywords: hepatocellular carcinoma; meta-analysis; propensity score; radiofrequency ablation; stereotactic body radiotherapy.