Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery, Department of Surgery, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Singapore.
Cost-effective and efficacious approaches to the management of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) must be developed in response to the rising incidence of this disease worldwide. While surgical resection is the current standard of care, most patients afflicted with HCC are unresectable at diagnosis. Developing good therapy for these patients is thus imperative. Liver transplantation offers the possibility of extirpation of not only the tumor but also the remaining cirrhotic liver. Transplantation is hence an ideal treatment option for early HCC patients with poor liver function. When transplantation occurs within the established Milan criteria, the outcomes are good (5-year survival >60%). Current efforts are under way to expand the indications for transplantation beyond the Milan criteria. The resulting surge of new algorithms may potentially shape a new system of transplantation criteria based on personalized parameter calculations. However, this change in criteria is not without controversy, and data remains inconclusive. Current bridging strategies have been similarly hindered by lack of consensus because of the lack of randomized, controlled trials demonstrating their efficacy. In addition, debate continues on the role of transplantation in early (resectable) HCC with good liver function. Issues of reimbursement, the paucity of available donor livers, and governmental funding (or lack thereof) continue to complicate the situation. In this review, issues preventing or facilitating globally consistent treatment strategies for HCC are discussed.