Clinical Edge Journal Scan

Commentary: Locoregional Treatments for HCC, July 2022

Dr. Damjanov scans the journals, so you don’t have to!

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Nevena Damjanov, MD

Patients with unresected hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) may be offered liver-directed therapies. This month we will review publications that report outcomes of patients managed with various locoregional treatments.

Liver transplantation cures both HCC and the underlying cirrhosis; however, tumor progression while the patient is on the waiting list is an ongoing concern. Couillard and colleagues reported a retrospective study of 88 patients with HCC who underwent percutaneous microwave ablation for 141 tumors while on the liver transplant list. The median follow-up was 61 months. Seventy-one patients (80.7%) underwent liver transplantation after a median wait time of 8.5 months. No tumor seeding was identified. Seventeen patients (19.3%) were removed from the waitlist, four (4.5%) of whom because of tumor progression outside of the Milan criteria. A total of five of 71 (7.0%) patients had posttransplant recurrence of HCC and all died during this time. The 5-year overall survival (OS) following liver transplantation was 76.7% and the disease-specific survival after transplantation was 89.6%. The authors concluded that microwave ablation is a safe and effective treatment that bridges patients to successful transplantation.

Radiation segmentectomy is performed by the administration of radioactive yttrium ( 90Y)-bound microspheres transarterially to the segment of liver containing an unresected tumor. Kim and colleagues described the results of a prospective trial that evaluated the efficacy of radiation segmentectomy with curative intent in patients with Child-Pugh score A–B7 and small (< 3 cm), unresectable HCC, where the tumors were in a location unsuitable for ablation. Of the 44 individuals assessed for eligibility, 29 patients were included in the study. A complete response was observed in 24 (83%) patients, and a partial response was observed in 5 (17%) patients. All patients had an initial objective tumor response, and 26 (90%) had a sustained complete response during 24 months of clinical follow-up. The treatment was well tolerated, with four (14%) patients having grade 3 leukopenia and two (7%) having grade 3 thrombocytopenia. The authors concluded that radiation segmentectomy should be investigated further as a potentially curative option for patients with HCC.

Portal vein thrombosis (PVT) has been considered a contraindication to transarterial chemoembolization (TACE) due to the concern for inadvertent liver ischemia if the hepatic artery becomes obstructed. Several studies have demonstrated that this risk is low. Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) is used to effectively target HCC (especially when there is a portal vein tumor) while minimizing collateral damage to the liver. Zhang and colleagues performed a meta-analysis of nine studies totaling 938 patients who had HCC with tumor PVT. Of those, 483 received either SBRT or TACE, and 455 were treated with both TACE and SBRT. There were 255 events reported in the monotherapy groups and 174 events in the combination groups. Following statistical analyses of all available data, the authors concluded that SBRT plus TACE yielded significantly higher 1-year OS (RR [relative risk] 1.52; 95% CI 1.33-1.74), 2-year OS (RR 2.00; 95% CI 1.48-2.70), and a lower progressive disease rate (RR 0.45; 95% CI 0.26-0.79) than monotherapy. The combination treatment was both safe and effective.

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