Poorly differentiated hepatocellular carcinoma: resection is equivalent to transplantation in patients with low liver fibrosis

HPB (Oxford). 2022 Jul;24(7):1100-1109. doi: 10.1016/j.hpb.2021.12.001. Epub 2021 Dec 10.


Background: Organ allocation criteria for liver transplantation focus on tumor size and multifocality while tumor differentiation and existing liver damage are omitted. This study analyzes the impact of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) grade and liver fibrosis comparing resection (SX) to transplantation (LT).

Methods: The National Cancer Database was queried between 2004 and 2016 for solitary HCC meeting Milan criteria undergoing SX vs LT. Two groups were created: low fibrosis (LF) vs high fibrosis (HF) and stratified by grade. Cox multivariable regression models, Kaplan-Meier survival analyses and log-rank tests were performed.

Results: 1515 patients were identified; 780 had LT and 735 had SX. Median overall survival (mOS) was 39.7 months; LT mOS was 47.9 months vs SX mOS of 34.9 months (P < .001). Multivariate analysis revealed SX, no chemotherapy, longer hospital stays, and age to be associated with worse survival. However, while transplantation conferred survival benefit for well-moderately differentiated tumors, SX vs LT did not impact survival for poorly differentiated HCC in LF patients, independent of tumor size.

Discussion: HCC differentiation and liver fibrosis, but not size, synergistically determine efficacy of SX vs LT. Therefore, current HCC transplantation criteria should incorporate tumor grade or liver fibrosis for optimal organ allocation.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Treatment Outcome