PURPOSE: The choice between liver transplantation (LT), liver resection (LR), and radiofrequency ablation (RFA) as initial therapy for early hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is controversial, yet little is known about how surgeons choose therapy for individual patients. We sought to quantify the impact of both clinical factors and surgeon specialty on surgical decision making in early HCC by using conjoint analysis.
METHODS Surgeons with an interest in liver surgery were invited to complete a Web-based survey including 10 case scenarios. Choice of therapy was then analyzed by using regression models that included both clinical factors and surgeon specialty (non-LT v LT).
RESULTS: When assessing early HCC occurrences, non-LT surgeons (50% LR; 41% LT; 9% RFA) made significantly different recommendations compared with LT surgeons (63% LT; 31% LR; 6% RFA; P < .001). Clinical factors, including tumor number and size, type of resection required, and platelet count, had significant effects on the choice between LR, LT, and RFA. After adjusting for clinical factors, non-LT surgeons remained more likely than LT surgeons to choose LR compared with LT (relative risk ratio [RRR], 2.67). When the weight of each clinical factor was allowed to vary by surgeon specialty, the residual independent effect of surgeon specialty on the decision between LR and LT was negligible (RRR, 0.93).
CONCLUSION: The impact of surgeon specialty on choice of therapy for early HCC is stronger than that of some clinical factors. However, the influence of surgeon specialty does not merely reflect an across-the-board preference for one therapy over another. Rather, certain clinical factors are weighed differently by surgeons in different specialties.