There is no definite agreement on the better therapy (radiofrequency ablation (RFA) versus surgical resection (SR)) for early hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) eligible for surgical treatments. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the evidence using meta-analytical techniques.
A literature search was undertaken until December 2011 to identify comparative studies evaluating survival rates, recurrence rates, and complications. Pooled odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) were calculated with either the fixed or random effect model.
Thirteen articles, comprising two randomized controlled trials(RCTs), were included in the review, with a total of 2,535 patients (1,233 treated with SR and 1,302 with RFA). The overall survival rates were significantly higher in patients treated with SR than RFA after1, 3, and 5 years (respectively: OR, 0.60 (95% CI, 0.42 to 0.86); OR, 0.49 (95% CI, 0.36 to 0.65); OR, 0.60 (95% CI, 0.43 to 0.84)). In the SR group, the 1, 3, and 5 years recurrence rates were significantly lower than the RFA group (respectively: OR, 1.48 (95% CI, 1.05 to 2.08); OR, 1.76 (95% CI, 1.49 to 2.08); OR, 1.68 (95% CI, 1.21 to 2.34)). However, local recurrence between two groups did not exhibit significant difference. For HCC ≤ 3 cm in diameter, SR was better than RFA at the 1, 3, and 5 years overall survival rates (respectively: OR, 0.34 (95% CI, 0.13 to 0.89); OR, 0.56 (95% CI, 0.37 to 0.84); OR, 0.44 (95% CI, 0.31 to 0.62)). This meta-analysis indicated that the complication of SR was higher than RFA (OR, 6.25 (95%CI, 3.12 to 12.52); P = 0.000).
Although local recurrence between two groups did not exhibit significant difference, SR demonstrated significantly improved survival benefits and lower complications for patients with early HCC, especially for HCC ≤ 3 cm in diameter. These findings should be interpreted carefully, owing to the lower level of evidence.