Efficacy and safety of radiofrequency ablation versus minimally invasive liver surgery for small hepatocellular carcinoma: a systematic review and meta-analysis

  • Mou-Bo Si
  • Pei-Jing Yan
  • Xiang-Yong Hao
  • Zhen-Ying Du
  • Hong-Wei Tian
  • Jia Yang
  • Cai-Wen Han
  • Ke-Hu YangEmail author
  • Tian-Kang GuoEmail author
Review Article



The aim of this study was to compare radiofrequency ablation (RFA) with minimally invasive liver surgery (MIS) in the treatment of small hepatocellular carcinoma (SHCC) and to assess short-term and long-term clinical outcomes.


PubMed, Embase, Cochrane Library, Web of science, and CBM were systematically searched for articles from inception to July 2018, comparing RFA and MIS in SHCC treatment. We evaluated overall survival (OS), disease-free survival (DFS), local recurrence, and complication rates, as well as hospitalization duration and operation times.


Six retrospective studies were analyzed, including a total of 597 patients, 313 treated with RFA and 284 treated with MIS. OS rates were significantly higher in patients treated with MIS at 3 years, when compared to RFA (OR 0.55; 95% CI 0.36 to 0.84). The 3-year DFS MIS rates were also superior to RFA (OR 0.63; 95% CI 0.41 to 0.98). In contrast, when compared to MIS, RFA demonstrated a significantly higher rate of local intrahepatic recurrences, (OR 2.24; 95% CI 1.47 to 3.42), and a lower incidence of postoperative complications (OR 0.34; 95% CI 0.22 to 0.53), as well as shorter operation times (OR − 145.31, 95% CI − 200.24 to − 90.38) and hospitalization duration (OR − 4.02,95% CI − 4.94 to − 3.10).


We found that MIS led to higher OS, DFS, and lower local recurrences in SHCC patients. Meanwhile, RFA treatments led to significantly lower complication rates, shorter operation times, and hospitalization duration. Considering long-term outcomes, MIS was found to be superior to RFA. However, RFA may be an alternative treatment for patients presenting a single SHCC nodule (≤ 3 cm), given its minimally invasive nature and its comparable long-term efficacy with MIS. Nevertheless, our findings should be explained with caution due to the low level of evidence obtained.


Small hepatocellular carcinoma Radiofrequency ablation Minimally invasive liver surgery Laparoscopic hepatectomy Robotic-assisted hepatectomy 



The authors thank the institution (Evidence Based Medicine Center of Lanzhou University) for their help and support to the methodology and meta process.


Mou-Bo Si, Pei-Jing Yan, Xiang-Yong Hao, Zhen-Ying Du, Hong-Wei Tian, Jia Yang, Cai-Wen Han, Ke-Hu Yang, and Tian-Kang Guo have declared that they have no conflicts of interest or financial ties to disclose.


Supported by Natural Science Foundation for Young Scientists of Gansu Province and the Science & Technology Planning Project of Gansu Province (Grant No.: 18JR3RA058). Supported by Key Laboratory of Evidence Based Medicine and Knowledge Translation Foundation of Gansu Province (Grant No. GSXZYZH2018006). Supported by Foundation of Lanzhou Science and Technology Bureau (Grant No. 2017-ZD-38). Supported by Research Projects of Gansu Provincial Hospital (Grant No.18GSSY3-1). Supported by Research Projects of Gansu Provincial Hospital (Grant No. 18GSSY3-8).

Supplementary material

464_2019_6784_MOESM1_ESM.doc (36 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 36 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of General SurgeryGansu Provincial HospitalLanzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of Clinical MedicineThe First Clinical Medical College of Lanzhou UniversityLanzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Evidence-Based Medicine Center, School of Basic Medical SciencesLanzhou UniversityLanzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  4. 4.Institution of Clinical Research and Evidence Based MedicineGansu Provincial HospitalLanzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  5. 5.Key Laboratory of Evidence Based Medicine and Knowledge Translation of Gansu ProvinceLanzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  6. 6.Department of PhysiologyShanxi Medical UniversityTaiyuanChina

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