Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) usually affects patients with chronic liver disease. While resection is the primary treatment of HCC in patients without cirrhosis, in the setting of moderate to severe cirrhosis, liver transplantation is the preferred therapy, as it simultaneously treats the tumor and the underlying liver condition. The optimal management of patients with HCC and early cirrhosis remains controversial. Although liver transplantation for HCC within the Milan criteria has been shown to have excellent long-term survival rates and low recurrence rates, its application is limited by organ availability. Due to the shortage of donors, a portion of patients drop out from the waiting list due to tumor progression. One alternative to transplantation is hepatic resection. In addition to the reported 50% 5-year survival rates, resection allows a better understanding of tumor biology through pathologic examination of the specimen, which may guide decision-making regarding salvage liver transplantation. Other nonsurgical locoregional therapies, such as transarterial chemoembolization and radiofrequency ablation, also serve as primary therapies and as a bridge to transplantation. The management of patients with early HCC is complex and multidimensional. The care of these patients is best served by a multidisciplinary approach, with consideration of the feasibility of transplantation weighed against the aggressiveness of the tumor biology and underlying hepatic dysfunction. All modalities of therapy should be viewed as complementary, not exclusive, therapeutic strategies.
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