Using a weaning immunosuppression protocol in liver transplantation recipients with hepatocellular carcinoma: a compromise between the risk of recurrence and the risk of rejection?
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) recurrence rate after liver transplantation (LT) is still up to 15–20%, despite a careful selection of candidates and optimization of the management within the waiting list. To reduce tumour recurrence, the currently adopted post-transplant strategies are based on the administration of a tailored immunosuppression (IS) regimen. Drug-induced depression of the immune system is essential in preventing graft rejection, however has a well-established association with oncogenesis. The immune system has a key role as a defending mechanism against cancer development, preventing vascular invasion and metastasis. Thus, IS drugs represent one of few modifiable non-oncological risk factors for tumour recurrence. In HCC recipients, a tailored IS therapy, with the aim to minimize drugs’ doses, is essential to gain the optimal balance between the risk of rejection and the risk of tumour recurrence. So far, a complete withdrawal of IS drugs after LT is reported to be safely achievable in 25% of patients (defined as “operational tolerant”), without the risk of patient and graft loss. The recent identification of non-invasive “bio-markers of tolerance”, which permit to identify patients who could successfully withdraw IS therapies, opens new perspectives in the management of HCC after LT. IS withdrawal could potentially reduce the risk of tumour recurrence, which represents the major drawback in HCC recipients. Herein, we review the current literature on IS weaning in patients who underwent LT for HCC as primary indication and we report the largest experiences on IS withdrawal in HCC recipients.