BACKGROUND: Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is emerging as a new therapeutic method for management of solid tumors. We report here our experience in the use of this technique for management of primary and secondary unresectable liver cancers. METHODS: Thirty-five patients with liver cancers were considered not suitable for curative resection at presentation: 8 with primary hepatocellular carcinoma ([HCC] 6 HCC and 2 fibrolamellar); 27 with metastatic liver cancer (17 colorectal carcinoma and 10 others). They were treated either with radiofrequency heat ablation (Radionics Europe N.V., Wettdren, Belgium) alone percutaneously and/or intraoperatively or in conjunction with surgical resections. The quality of RFA was based on the subjective feeling of whether the tumor was completely destroyed or not. The effectiveness of RFA was assessed according to clinical findings, radiographic images, and tumor markers at follow-up. RESULTS: In 8 primary liver cases, 4 patients with a high level of α fetoprotein (AFP) benefited from the RFA with a 83.3% to 99.7% reduction of AFP. One with fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma died 2 months after an incomplete percutaneous RFA from recurrence. The rest all had stable disease at the time of follow-up (mean 10.4 months). In patients with colorectal liver metastases, there were 4 deaths: 1 patient died postoperatively on the 30th day from a severe chest infection having shown a considerable reduction of carcinoembryonic antigen level (CEA, 8 versus 36 μg/L); 3 died from local and systemic disease, 1 at 12 months and 2 at 1 month, having had an incomplete RFA. The others had stable disease at follow-up (mean 7.6 months). Five patients underwent liver resections successfully with the application of RFA for residual lesions in the remaining contralateral lobe. In 10 patients with other liver tumors, 7 patients had stable disease at follow-up (mean 13.4 months); 1 patient had evidence of local and systemic recurrence 10 months after surgical resections with the intraoperative RFA and 2 patients died of systemic recurrence of disease 3 and 6 months after RFA alone. Two patients had liver resections in conjunction with the intraoperative RFA. The mean follow-up in our series was 8.5 months. CONCLUSION: Radiofrequency heat ablation is useful as a primary treatment for unresectable liver cancers. The procedure can be used to treat the small residual tumor load in the contralateral lobe following liver resection in those considered unresectable at the first presentation. This new therapeutic strategy seems to increase surgical resectability in patients judged unresectable.
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