Background and aim: In patients with cirrhosis and small hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), thermal ablation is currently recognized as an effective local treatment. Among thermal procedures, radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is the most diffusely used and is the standard against which any new treatment should be compared. In retrospective studies, laser ablation (LA) resulted as safe and effective as RFA. Therefore, we performed a non-inferiority randomized trial comparing RFA with LA in patients with cirrhosis and HCC within Milan criteria.
Methods: Overall, 140 patients with 157 HCC nodules were randomly assigned to receive RFA or LA. The primary end-point was the proportion of complete tumor ablation (CTA). Secondary end-points were time to local progression (TTLP) and overall survival (OS).
Results: Per patient CTA rates after RFA and LA were 97.4% (95% CI, 91.0-99.3) and 95.7% (88.1-98.5), respectively (difference = 1.4%, 95% CI from -6.0% to + 9.0%). Per nodule CTA rates for RFA and LA were 97.4% (91.0-99.3) and 96.3% (89.6-98.7), respectively (difference = 1.1%, from -5.7% to + 8.1%). The mean TTLP was comparable between RFA group (42.0 months; 95% CI, 36.83-47.3) and LA group (46.7 months; 95% CI, 41.5-51.9) (P = .591). The mean OS was 42 months in both groups and survival probability at 1 and 3 years was 94% and 89% in RFA group, and 94% and 80% in LA group.
Conclusion: LA resulted not inferior to RFA in inducing the CTA of HCC nodules and therefore it should be considered as an evaluable alternative for thermal ablation of small HCC in cirrhotic patients.