From the AGA Journals

Study eyes liver transplantation after Region 5 UNOS downstaging


Key clinical point: Liver transplantation led to excellent outcomes when performed after downstaging hepatocellular carcinoma according to the UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) Region 5 protocol.

Major finding: Downstaging succeeded in 58% of patients. Estimated 5-year posttransplantation recurrence-free survival was 87%.

Study details: Retrospective multicenter study of 187 patients with hepatocellular carcinoma.

Disclosures: The National Institutes of Health provided partial funding. The investigators reported having no conflicts of interest.

Source: Mehta N et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Nov 23. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2017.11.037.

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Downstaging cancer improves outcomes

Liver transplantation of selected patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is an accepted indication and associated with excellent outcomes. Until recently, criteria for liver transplantation were based on the Milan criteria that only took size and number of tumors under consideration. In this multicenter study, patients who were outside of Milan criteria were successfully downstaged to within Milan criteria with locoregional therapy and subsequently transplanted with excellent outcomes. Salient features included the following. 1) Six months waiting after the first treatment and 3 months after downstaging was required to ensure that the tumor stage remained within Milan criteria. 2) Any specific type of locoregional therapy was allowed. 3) Downstaging was possible in a majority of patients after a single treatment. 4) Patients with alpha-fetoprotein greater than 1000 ng/mL (approximately 10%) as well as presence of substantial decompensated liver disease (approximately 40%) did not have favorable outcomes. 4) On multivariable analysis, tumor biology was a stronger predictor of poor outcomes than was stage of liver disease.

Dr. Sumeet K. Asrani
The study is important because it supports incorporating tumor biology (regression on subsequent imaging, low AFP versus high AFP) and concomitant liver disease status (Child A versus Child B/C) in addition to size and number of tumors (Milan criteria) for identifying a further slice of patients with HCC who may benefit from transplant. Indeed, downstaging protocols are now part of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network MELD exception pathway for liver transplantation of HCC patients in the United States, as long as locoregional therapy results in successful downstaging and the AFP (if elevated) decreases to below 500 ng/mL.

Sumeet K. Asrani, MD, MSc, is associate professor in medicine and hepatologist at Baylor University Medical Center, and medical director of the Center for Advanced Liver Disease, Dallas. He has no conflicts of interest.



Liver transplantation led to “excellent outcomes” when performed after downstaging hepatocellular carcinoma using the UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) Region 5 protocol, investigators reported.

Downstaging succeeded for 58% of patients, and an estimated 87% of transplantation recipients were alive and recurrence free at 5 years, said Neil Mehta, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, and his associates. The findings support expanding priority access to liver transplantation to include patients whose hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has been successfully downstaged, they said. “In the meantime, UNOS has recently approved the Region 5 downstaging protocol for receiving automatic HCC-MELD exception listing,” they wrote. The report was published in the June issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology (doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2017.11.037).

This is the first multicenter study of HCC downstaging according to a uniform protocol, the researchers noted. In multivariable analyses, downstaging was significantly more likely to fail in the setting of moderate to severe (Child Pugh B or C) hepatic impairment (hazard ratio, 3.3; 95% confidence interval, 3.0 to 3.6; P less than .001) or baseline alpha-fetoprotein level above 1,000 ng/mL (HR, 1.6; 95% CI, 1.4 to 1.9; P less than .001).

The incidence of HCC in the United States is expected to keep rising for at least another decade because of epidemic levels of fatty liver disease and chronic hepatitis C, the investigators noted. Downstaging HCC with local-regional therapy is a common bridge to transplantation, and successful treatment tends to reflect favorable tumor biology, which bodes well for transplantation. However, no multicenter study had evaluated these associations. Therefore, the investigators retrospectively studied 187 patients with HCC from three centers in California who underwent downstaging according to the UNOS Region 5 protocol between 2002 and 2012.

A total of 156 patients (83%) were successfully downstaged to within Milan criteria after a median of 2.7 months (interquartile range, 1.4 to 4.9 months), said the researchers. Among patients who were successfully downstaged but did not undergo transplantation, 37 patients had tumor progression or died from liver-related causes after a median of 6 months, while 10 patients remained on the transplant list. Among the 109 patients who underwent transplantation after a median of 13 months (interquartile range 6 to 19 months), median follow-up time was 4.3 years and estimated 5-year survival was 80%, and estimated recurrence-free survival was 87%.

Fully 68% of successfully downstaged patients required only one local-regional treatment, the researchers said. The Region 5 protocol considers patients eligible for downstaging if they have a single HCC lesion measuring up to 8 cm or multiple lesions whose combined diameters do not exceed 8 cm, and no evidence of extrahepatic disease or vascular invasion on multiphase computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging.

The protocol considers downstaging successful if it results in one lesion measuring up to 5 cm or no more than three lesions of up to 3 cm each. Thus, patients who start out with four or five lesions must have complete necrosis of at least one to two tumors. Successfully downstaged patients must remain free of acute hepatic decompensation for at least 3 consecutive months before undergoing transplantation, according to the protocol.

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