Radiologists offer non-surgical treatment for early-stage liver cancer

OAK BROOK, Ill. (Feb. 16, 2005) Radiofrequency (RF) ablation offers an effective first-line treatment for some liver cancer patients who are excluded from surgery, according to two studies appearing in the March issue of the journal Radiology.

"I believe that this treatment will soon enter into the guidelines for the clinical management of liver cancer patients," said the first study's lead author, Riccardo Lencioni, M.D., a radiology professor at the University of Pisa in Italy.

Liver cancer is the most common organ malignancy worldwide and generally carries a poor prognosis. Surgical resection removing the cancerous portion of the liver is considered the best hope for a cure. Unfortunately, most patients do not qualify for surgery. Liver transplantations are available for a small number of patients, but organ supply is limited, and tumor progression during the prolonged waiting period results in a high dropout rate. Consequently, RF ablation has emerged as an alternative treatment for inoperable liver cancer and may also be useful as a bridge to liver transplantation.

RF ablation is a minimally invasive procedure where an interventional radiologist uses an image-guided electrode needle to deliver heat directly to tumors, in effect "cooking" them.

Dr. Lencioni and colleagues performed RF ablation on 187 early-stage liver cancer patients with cirrhosis who were not candidates for surgery. People with cirrhosis or Hepatitis B or C virus infections are at increased risk of developing liver cancer. Fewer than 5 percent of liver-cancer patients with cirrhosis qualify for surgical liver resection, and the liver donor shortage limits transplant availability.

"RF ablation was shown to be a safe therapeutic option, with no treatment-induced mortality and a complication rate below 2 percent," Dr. Lencioni said.

Ninety-seven percent of the patients survived one year, 71 percent survived three years, and 48 percent survived

Contact: Maureen Morley
Radiological Society of North America

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