Microwave Ablation, Radiofrequency Ablation, Irreversible Electroporation, and Stereotactic Ablative Body Radiotherapy for Intermediate Size (3-5 cm) Unresectable Colorectal Liver Metastases: a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Curr Oncol Rep. 2022 Jun;24(6):793-808. doi: 10.1007/s11912-022-01248-6. Epub 2022 Mar 17.


Purpose of review: Based on good local control rates and an excellent safety profile, guidelines consider thermal ablation the gold standard to eliminate small unresectable colorectal liver metastases (CRLM). However, efficacy decreases exponentially with increasing tumour size. The preferred treatment for intermediate-size unresectable CRLM remains uncertain. This systematic review and meta-analysis compare safety and efficacy of local ablative treatments for unresectable intermediate-size CRLM (3-5 cm).

Recent findings: We systematically searched for publications reporting treatment outcomes of unresectable intermediate-size CRLM treated with thermal ablation, irreversible electroporation (IRE) or stereotactic ablative body-radiotherapy (SABR). No comparative studies or randomized trials were found. Literature to assess effectiveness was limited and there was substantial heterogeneity in outcomes and study populations. Per-patient local control ranged 22-90% for all techniques; 22-89% (8 series) for thermal ablation, 44% (1 series) for IRE, and 67-90% (1 series) for SABR depending on radiation dose. Focal ablative therapy is safe and can induce long-term disease control, even for intermediate-size CRLM. Although SABR and tumuor-bracketing techniques such as IRE are suggested to be less susceptible to size, evidence to support any claims of superiority of one technique over the other is unsubstantiated by the available evidence. Future prospective comparative studies should address local-tumour-progression-free-survival, local control rate, overall survival, adverse events, and quality-of-life.

Keywords: Colorectal liver metastases (CRLM); Irreversible electroporation (IRE); Microwave ablation (MWA); Radiofrequency ablation (RFA); Stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy (SABR); Thermal ablation.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Electroporation / methods
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Liver Neoplasms* / secondary
  • Liver Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Microwaves
  • Radiofrequency Ablation* / methods