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J Hepatol. 2006 Jan;44(1):158-66. Epub 2005 Nov 2.

Treatment and outcomes of treating of hepatocellular carcinoma among Medicare recipients in the United States: a population-based study.

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Section of Health Services Research, Houston Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Baylor College of Medicine, 2002 Holcombe Boulevard (152), Houston, TX 77030, USA.



There are several treatment alternatives available for patients diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Yet, neither the extent to which potentially curative or palliative therapy is used to treat HCC, nor the determinants of using such therapies are known. Further, it is unclear how effective different modalities are for treating HCC.


We used the linked SEER-Medicare dataset to identify patients diagnosed with HCC between 1992 and 1999. We identified 2963 patients with continuous Medicare enrollment who were not enrolled in a Medicare-HMO. HCC treatments were categorized as potentially curative therapy (resection, transplant, local ablation), or palliative (trans-arterial chemoembolization (TACE), chemotherapy), and no therapy. Demographic (age, sex, race, geographic region), clinical (comorbidity, risk factors and severity of liver disease) and tumor factors (tumor size, extent of disease) were examined as potential determinants of therapy, as well as survival in univariate and multivariable analyses. Survival curves were also generated and compared among the different treatment modalities.


The median age at diagnosis was 74 years (range: 32-105), and most patients (91%) were older than 65 years. Approximately 68% were White, 10% Black, 4% Hispanic, 8% Asian, and 9% were of other race. Thirteen percent of the patients received potentially curative therapy (transplant 0.9%, resection 8.2%, local ablation 4.1%), 4% received TACE, 57% received other palliative therapy, and 26% received no specific therapy. Only 34% of 513 patients with single lesions, and 34% of 143 patients with lesions <3.0 cm received potentially curative therapy. However, 19.2% of patients with unfavorable tumor features (lesion >10.0 cm) received such therapy. Among patients who received potentially curative therapy (n=392), resection was the most common procedure (n=243, 62%) followed by local ablation (n=122, 31%) and finally transplantation (n=27, 7%). In regression analyses, geographic variations in the extent and type of curative therapy persisted after adjusting for demographic, clinical, and tumor features. Median overall survival was 104 days following HCC diagnosis with the longest survival in the transplant group (852 days) and the shortest survival in the group with no treatment (58 days). In the survival analysis, transplantation led to the longest survival, followed by resection. Neither ablation nor TACE yielded prolonged survival (3 year survival was less than 10%).


In this predominantly 65 years and older Medicare population, there are marked geographic variations in the management of HCC that seem to be at least as important as clinical and tumor-related features in determining the extent and type of HCC therapy. There is underutilization of potentially curative therapy, even among those with favorable tumor features.

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