The expression of platelet-derived growth factor, a potent mitogen, and its receptor both in tissue and serum correlate with the severity of liver cirrhosis. Over-expression of platelet-derived growth factor has been demonstrated in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) tumors and cell lines. Imatinib, a potent inhibitor of BCR-ABL and c-kit, also inhibits the platelet-derived growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase. The trial was designed to assess the efficacy and safety of imatinib in patients with unresectable HCC.
Eligibility criteria consisted of HCC patient over the age of 18 with reasonable organ function, unresectable but measurable disease, not candidates for chemoinfusion, and a performance status of 0 to 2. Imatinib was started at 300 mg/d orally with 100 mg/wk dose escalation up to 800 mg/d if toxicity permitted.
Fifteen patients, median age 58 years, were enrolled and treated with imatinib. Most, or 7, patients had hepatitis B virus as a risk factor for HCC, followed by hepatitis C virus in 3 patients. Metastatic disease (American Joint Committee on Cancer stage IV) was noted in 13 patients and locally advanced (stage III) in the remainder. The median dose-level of imatinib was 500 mg/d. Two patients had stable disease lasting more than 2 months. The remainder progressed within 2 months of initiation of imatinib. No grade 3 or 4 hematologic toxicity was observed. Two patients had grade 3 elevated liver function tests during treatment; otherwise, there was no other grade 3 or 4 nonhematologic toxicity noted.
Although toxicities were tolerable, imatinib as a monotherapy for the treatment of unresectable HCC has little, if any, significant efficacy.