Background: Percutaneous ethanol injection (PEI) has become a widely used procedure in the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, the criteria for selecting patients are not standardized, and little information is available about the complications of the procedure.
Methods: A questionnaire was sent to 11 experienced Italian centers. It investigated: the size and the number of HCC nodules suitable for treatment and the Child-Pugh risk class of the associated cirrhosis; the performance of the procedure; the number and characteristics of the patients treated; and, finally, any complications.
Results: Most of the centers performed PEI in single HCC nodules less than 5 cm in diameter or in multiple nodules if fewer than three, the larger being less than 3 cm. Patients in Child-Pugh's classes A, B, and C with single nodules were generally considered for PEI. A prothrombin time of less than 40% and a platelet count of less than 40,000/mm3 contraindicated PEI in most of the centers. PEI was generally performed on outpatients, using Chiba or spinal needles. One thousand and sixty-six patients (8118 sessions) were enrolled; 74% had a single HCC nodule and 26% multiple nodules. All except four had cirrhosis; 53% were in Child class A, 38% in class B, and 9% in class C. The mean number of sessions needed to destroy an HCC nodule was 6.7 (range, 2-14), with a mean alcohol injection volume of 5.0 ml per session (range, 2-20 ml). One death (0.09%) and 34 complications (3.2%) were reported. Among the complications we call attention to the hemorrhagic ones (eight cases) and tumoral seeding (seven cases). Severe pain experienced during the maneuver led to discontinuation of the procedure in 3.7% of the patients; 13.5% of the patients required analgesics and 24% had fever after PEI.
Conclusions: Some procedural aspects of PEI treatment differ among the various centers a standardization is advisable. In the present survey PEI is a low-risk technique.