Patients Benefit from Liver Transplantation for Hepatocellular Carcinoma beyond Milan Criteria without Harming the Health Care System

Liver transplantation (LT) is the only definitive treatment to cure hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in cirrhosis. Waiting-list candidates are selected by the model for end-stage liver disease (MELD). However, many indications are not sufficiently represented by labMELD. For HCC, patients are selected by Milan-criteria: Milan-in qualifies for standard exception (SE) and better organ access on the waiting list; while Milan-out patients are restricted to labMELD and might benefit from extended criteria donor (ECD)-grafts. We analyzed a cohort of 102 patients (2011−2020). Patients with labMELD (no SE, Milan-out, n = 56) and matchMELD (SE-HCC, Milan-in, n = 46) were compared. The median overall survival was not significantly different (p = 0.759). No difference was found in time on the waiting list (p = 0.881), donor risk index (p = 0.697) or median costs (p = 0.204, EUR 43,500 (EUR 17,800−185,000) for labMELD and EUR 30,300 (EUR 17,200−395,900) for matchMELD). Costs were triggered by a cut-off labMELD of 12 points. Overall, the deficit increased by EUR 580 per labMELD point. Cost drivers were re-operation (p < 0.001), infection with multiresistant germs (p = 0.020), dialysis (p = 0.017), operation time (p = 0.012) and transfusions (p < 0.001). In conclusion, this study demonstrates that LT for HCC is successful and cost-effective in low labMELD patients independent of Milan-criteria. Therefore, ECD-grafts are favorized in Milan-out HCC patients with low labMELD.


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