Selection of patients with hepatocellular cancer: a difficult balancing between equity, utility, and benefit
Although liver transplantation (LT) represents the gold-standard strategy for hepatocellular cancer (HCC), its use is circumscribed by several factors like donor shortage, perioperative complications, or competition with other candidates without HCC. Moreover, different alternative approaches like resection or loco-regional therapies may be attempted in selected cases. The best option for the treatment of an HCC patient is a complex decision, involving several ethical principles including: equity (horizontal equity and vertical equity or urgency), and utility. These principles influence the different phases of the patient selection process for LT: inscription in the waiting list (WL), deciding upon patient priority and drop-out before LT, allocating the liver donor to the best matched recipient. The best end-point for describing the principle of utility is the “transplant benefit” (TB). This concept expresses the survival gain obtained comparing LT with the best alternative therapies (i.e., difference between life years obtained with and without LT). The TB used with a mid-term time horizon (post-transplant 5–10 years), has the intrinsic potential to reach the dignity of an independent LT selection principle. Thus, the present review investigates the role of organ allocation using a TB model with the intent to introduce equity among patients transplanted having HCC or non-tumoral diseases.