Downstaging for hepatocellular cancer: harm or benefit?
Downstaging of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) to enable liver transplantation has become an area of intense interest and research. It may allow a curative option in patients outside widely accepted transplantation criteria, with outcomes that, in some studies, are comparable to transplantation for patients within criteria. There have been conflicting opinions on the best downstaging protocols, criteria for downstaging eligibility and for assessment of response. We therefore aimed to review the literature and evidence for downstaging, as well as considering its drawbacks. Conclusion: Pooled analyses have suggested success in down staging in about half of patients treated, but with higher recurrence rates than patients initially within transplantation criteria. Studies with strict inclusion criteria and mandatory waiting time before transplantation reported survival equivalent to patients who did not require downstaging. In carefully selected patients, there is a role for down staging to provide the chance of transplantation and cure, with acceptable outcomes. Further multi center, well-designed studies are required to clarify who will mostly benefit. Until such data is available, downstaging criteria should be stated within transplantation programs and relevant decisions should be discussed by multidisciplinary teams.