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Liver Transplantation for Hepatocellular Carcinoma: A Surgical Perspective

Fortune, Brett E. MD*; Umman, Veysel MD; Gilliland, Thomas MS; Emre, Sukru MD

Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology: July 2013 - Volume 47 - Issue - p S37–S42
doi: 10.1097/MCG.0b013e318286ff8e

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a leading cause of cancer-related mortality in the world. Early detection and timely treatment of HCC is critical for better patient outcomes. Curative therapy consists of surgical hepatic resection or liver transplantation (LTx); however, both are restricted to explicit selective criteria. Liver resection is the gold standard of treatment for noncirrhotic patients but can be done in only a small fraction of cirrhotic patients depending on synthetic dysfunction, degree of portal hypertension, and number and location(s) of tumor(s). Therefore, the best treatment modality in cirrhotic patients with HCC is LTx as it will cure both HCC and the underlying cirrhosis. The limitation to offer transplant to all cirrhotic patients with HCC is the shortage of available donor organs. While these patients are waiting for transplant, their tumors may progress and develop distant metastases and may lead to patients losing their candidacy for LTx. Various ablation therapies can be used to treat HCC, prevent tumor progression, and thus, avoid patients losing the option of LTx. Future directions to improve HCC patient outcomes include advancement in tumor gene analysis and histopathology for better prediction of tumor behavior, improved immunosuppression regimens to reduce tumor recurrence in the posttransplant setting, and efficient use of an expanded donor pool that includes living donor organs. This paper will review the current methods of HCC diagnosis, selection for either hepatic resection or LTx, and will also summarize posttreatment outcomes. We will suggest future directions for the field as we strive to improve outcomes for our HCC patients.

*Department of Medicine, Division of Digestive Disease

Department of Surgery, Division of Transplantation and Immunology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT

The authors declare that they have nothing to disclose.

Reprints: Sukru Emre, MD, Department of Surgery, Yale School of Medicine, 333 Cedar Street, FMB121, Suite F, P.O. Box 208062, New Haven, CT 06520 (e-mail:

© 2013 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins