Source University of Adelaide Department of Surgery, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woodville, Adelaide, South Australia 5011, Australia.
BACKGROUND: Despite being one of the commonest causes of cancer-related death around the world, only 20 per cent of hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs) are amenable to curative treatment (surgical resection or liver transplantation). Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) has emerged as a popular therapy for unresectable HCC. There is evidence that the disparity in survival after curative RFA and surgery for HCC, especially tumours smaller than 3 cm in diameter, is narrowing. This review examined the survival and disease recurrence rates after RFA for HCC over the past decade.
METHODS: A systematic review was conducted using MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Cochrane Methodology Register and the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects from January 2000 until November 2010. Papers reporting on patients with HCC who were treated with RFA, either in comparison or in combination with other interventions, such as surgery or percutaneous ethanol injection (PEI), were eligible for inclusion. Outcome data collected were overall survival, disease-free survival and disease recurrence rates. Only randomized controlled trials (RCTs), quasi-RCTs and non-randomized comparative studies with more than 12 months' follow-up were included.
RESULTS: Forty-three articles, including 12 RCTs, were included in the review. The majority of the articles reported the use of RFA for unresectable HCC, often in combination with other treatments such as PEI, transarterial chemoembolization and/or surgery. Overall and disease-free survival rates continue to improve, despite an increase in the size and numbers of tumours treated. More recently some clinicians have used RFA to treat selected patients with resectable HCC, with good outcomes.
CONCLUSION: RFA provides a valuable treatment option for patients with unresectable HCC. It improves survival in those previously considered to have advanced disease. As progress continues to be made, RFA is gradually being used to treat resectable HCC.