BACKGROUND: There is a trend to offer liver transplantation to patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) with tumour status within the Milan criteria but with preserved liver function. This study aimed to evaluate the outcome of such patients following partial hepatectomy as primary treatment.
METHODS: A retrospective analysis was performed on all adult patients with HCC and tumour status within the Milan criteria undergoing partial hepatectomy at a single centre from 1995 to 2008. Their outcomes were compared with those of similar patients having right-lobe living donor liver transplantation (LDLT) as primary treatment.
RESULTS: A total of 408 patients with HCC were enrolled. Some 384 patients with a solitary tumour 5 cm or less in diameter had a better 5-year survival rate than 24 patients with oligonodular tumours (2-3 nodules, each 3 cm or less in size) (70•7 versus 46 per cent; P = 0•025). Multivariable analysis identified younger age (65 years or less), lack of postoperative complications, negative resection margin, absent microvascular invasion and non-cirrhotic liver as predictors of favourable overall survival. The 5-year survival rate of 287 younger patients with chronic liver disease and R0 hepatectomy was 72•8 per cent, comparable to that of 81 per cent in 50 similar patients treated by LDLT (P = 0•093).
CONCLUSION: Partial hepatectomy for patients with HCC and tumour status within the Milan criteria achieved a satisfactory 5-year survival rate, particularly in younger patients with solitary tumours and R0 hepatectomy. Patients with oligonodular tumours have a worse survival and might benefit from liver transplantation.