Objective: To summarize the experience with salvage liver transplantation (SLT) for patients with recurrent hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) after primary hepatic resection in a single center. Methods: A total of 376 adult patients with HCC underwent orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) at Organ Transplantation Center, the First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University, between 2004 and 2008. Among these patients, 36 underwent SLT after primary liver curative resection due to intrahepatic recurrence. During the same period, one hundred and forty-seven patients with HCC within Milan criteria underwent primary OLT (PLTW group), the intra-operative and post-operative parameters were compared between these two groups. Furthermore, we compared tumor recurrence and patient survival of patients with SLT to 156 patients with HCC beyond Milan criteria (PLTB group). Cox Hazard regression was made to identify the risk factors for tumor recurrence. Results: The median interval between initial liver resection and SLT was 35 months (1-63 months). The intraoperative blood loss (P<0.05) and transfusion volume (P<0.05) were larger in the SLT group than in the PLTW group. The operation time was longer in the SLT group (P<0.05). The post-operative complications incidence, tumor recurrence rate, patients' survival rate, and tumor-free survival rate were comparable between these two groups (all P>0.05). When compared to those patients with HCC beyond Milan criteria undergoing primary OLT, patients undergoing SLT achieved a better survival and a lower tumor recurrence. Cox Proportional Hazards model showed that vascular invasion, including macrovascular and microvascular invasion, as well as AFP level >400 IU/L were risk factors for tumor recurrence after LT. Conclusions: In comparison with primary OLT, although SLT is associated with increased operation difficulties, it provides a good option for patients with HCC recurrence after curative resection.
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