Pathologic response translates to improved patient survival after locoregional treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma: the importance of minimally invasive microwave ablation



Hepatectomy or transplantation can serve as curative treatment for early-stage hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Unfortunately, as progression remains a reality, locoregional therapies (LRT) for curative or bridging intent have become common. Efficacy on viability, outcomes, and accuracy of imaging should be defined to guide treatment.


Patients with HCC who underwent minimally invasive (MIS) microwave ablation (MWA), transarterial chemoembolization (TACE), or both (MIS-MWA-TACE) prior to hepatectomy or transplantation were identified. Tumor response and preoperative computed tomography (CT) accuracy were assessed and compared to pathology. Clinical and oncologic outcomes were compared between MIS-MWA, TACE, and MIS-MWA-TACE.


Ninety-one patients, with tumors from all stages of the Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) staging, were identified who underwent LRT prior to resection or transplant. Fourteen patients underwent MIS-MWA, 46 underwent TACE, and 31 underwent both neoadjuvantly. TACE population was older; otherwise, there were no differences in demographics. Fifty-seven percent of MIS-MWA patients had no viable tumor on pathology whereas only 13% of TACE patients and 29% of MIS-MWA-TACE patients had complete destruction (p = 0.004). The amount of remaining viable tumor in the explant was also significantly different between groups (MIS-MWA: 17.2%, TACE: 48.7%, MIS-MWA-TACE: 18.6%; p ≤ 0.0001). Compared with TACE, the MIS-MWA and MIS-MWA-TACE groups had significantly improved overall survival (MIS-MWA: 99.94 months, TACE: 75.35 months, MIS-MWA-TACE: 140 months; p = 0.017). This survival remained significant with stratification by tumor size. CT accuracy was found to be 50% sensitive and 86% specific for MIS-MWA. For TACE, CT had an 82% sensitivity and 33% specificity and for MIS-MWA-TACE, there was a 42% sensitivity and 78% specificity.


The impact of locoregional treatments on tumor viability is distinct and superior with MIS-MWA alone and MIS-MWA-TACE offering significant advantage over TACE alone. The extent of this effect may be implicated in the improved overall survival.

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Correspondence to David A. Iannitti.

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David A. Iannitti is a consultant for Ethicon and Medtronic. Maria Baimas-George, Michael Watson, Jesse Sulzer, Patrick Salibi, Keith J Murphy, David Levi, John B. Martinie, Dionisios Vrochides, Erin H. Baker, and Lee Ocuin have no conflicts of interest or financial ties to disclose.

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Baimas-George, M., Watson, M., Sulzer, J. et al. Pathologic response translates to improved patient survival after locoregional treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma: the importance of minimally invasive microwave ablation. Surg Endosc (2020).

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  • Locoregional treatment
  • Bridging treatment
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Transplant
  • Hepatic resection
  • Microwave ablation
  • Minimally invasive
  • Transarterial chemoembolization