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Oncologist. 2007 Nov;12(11):1321-31.

Liver transplantation for hepatocellular carcinoma in Asia.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, The University of Hong Kong, Queen Mary Hospital, 102 Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, China.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a leading cause of cancer death, particularly in Asia where the major etiology, chronic hepatitis B virus infection, is endemic. The tumor frequently develops in a background of cirrhosis, and liver transplantation offers a chance to cure both the tumor and the underlying cirrhosis. The Milan criteria based on tumor size and number as an estimate of tumor burden are conventionally the gold standard in determining eligibility for transplantation, and the outcome is excellent. The shortage of organs from deceased donors has curtailed the adoption of extended criteria and led to the problems of long waiting times and dropouts. Several measures have been taken to tackle these issues, including prioritization of patients with HCC, use of pretransplant adjuvant treatment to prevent tumor progression, and living donor liver transplantation (LDLT). With a high incidence of HCC and a low organ donation rate, Asia has developed a distinctive pattern of indication and strategy in the application of liver transplantation. Over the last decade, the number of liver transplants in Asia has increased rapidly, by 10-fold, largely as a result of the development of LDLT. The proportion of patients who undergo liver transplantation for HCC is increasing and HCC comprises one third of the indication for liver transplantation in Asia. LDLT is the dominant strategy, accounting for 96% of the liver transplants for HCC. Many transplant programs accept patients beyond the Milan criteria, and the reported 3-year survival rate is about 60%. With the promotion of organ donation, better quantification of the benefit of LDLT for extended indications, and identification of predictors for survival, the practice of liver transplantation for HCC in Asia will continue to evolve.

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