The BCLC staging system (Fig. )11
has come to be widely accepted in clinical practice and is also being used for many clinical trials of new drugs to treat HCC. Therefore, it has become the de facto
staging system that is used.
The BCLC staging system for HCC. M, metastasis classification; N, node classification; PS, performance status; RFA, radiofrequency ablation; TACE, transarterial chemoembolization.
The recommendations for liver transplantation have not changed. No new data have emerged that can be used to define a new limit for expanding the patient selection criteria. The usefulness of portal pressure measurement to predict the outcome of patients and define optimal candidates for resection has been validated in Japan.12
Thus, resection should remain the first option for patients who have the optimal profile, as defined by the BCLC staging system. Although resection can be performed in some of these patients with advanced liver disease, the mortality is higher and they might be better served by liver transplantation or ablation. A cohort study of radiofrequency ablation demonstrated that complete ablation of lesions smaller than 2 cm is possible in more than 90% of cases, with a local recurrence rate of less than 1%.13
These data should be confirmed by other groups before positioning ablation as the first-line approach for very early HCC.
The recommendations regarding patient selection and method of administration of chemoembolization are unchanged. Radioembolization, i.e., the intra-arterial injection of yttrium-90 bound to glass beads or to resin, has been shown to induce tumor necrosis, but there are no data comparing its efficacy to transarterial chemoembolization or to sorafenib treatment for those with portal vein invasion. However, for patients who have either failed transarterial chemoembolization or who present with more advanced HCC, new data indicates the efficacy of sorafenib (a multikinase inhibitor with activity against Raf-1, B-Raf, vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2, platelet-derived growth factor receptor, c-Kit receptors, among other kinases) in prolonging life.14,15
Sorafenib induces a clinically relevant improvement in time to progression and in survival The magnitude of the improvement in survival compares with other established molecular targeted therapies for other advanced cancers, and the associated toxicity is easily managed without treatment-related mortality. The most frequent adverse events were diarrhea (sorafenib versus placebo: 11% versus 2%) and hand–foot skin reaction (sorafenib versus placebo: 8% versus <1%), fatigue, and weight loss. Sorafenib is now considered first-line treatment in patients with HCC who can no longer be treated with potentially more effective therapies.
In summary, in the past decade HCC has gone from being an almost universal death sentence to a cancer that can be prevented, detected at an early stage, and effectively treated. Physicians caring for patients at risk need to provide high-quality screening, proper management of screen-detected lesions, and provision of therapy that is most appropriate for the stage of disease.