Purpose Data that guide selection of optimal local ablative therapy for the management localized hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) are lacking. Because there are limited prospective comparative data for these treatment modalities, we aimed to compare the effectiveness of radiofrequency ablation (RFA) versus stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) by using the National Cancer Database.
Methods We conducted an observational study to compare the effectiveness of RFA versus SBRT in nonsurgically managed patients with stage I or II HCC. Overall survival was compared by using propensity score-weighted and propensity score-matched analyses based on patient-, facility-, and tumor-level characteristics. A sensitivity analysis was performed to evaluate the effect of severe fibrosis/cirrhosis. In addition, we performed exploratory analyses to determine the effectiveness of RFA and SBRT in clinically relevant patient subsets.
Results Overall, 3,684 (92.6%) and 296 (7.4%) nonsurgically managed patients with stage I or II HCC received RFA or SBRT, respectively. After propensity matching, 5-year overall survival was 29.8% (95% CI, 24.5% to 35.3%) in the RFA group versus 19.3% (95% CI, 13.5% to 25.9%) in the SBRT group ( P < .001). Inverse probability-weighted analysis yielded similar results. The benefit of RFA was consistent across all subgroups examined and was robust to the effects of severe fibrosis/cirrhosis.
Conclusion Our study suggests that treatment with RFA yields superior survival compared with SBRT for nonsurgically managed patients with stage I or II HCC. Even though our results are limited by the biases related to the retrospective study design, we believe that, in the absence of a randomized clinical trial, our findings should be considered when recommending local ablative therapy for localized unresectable HCC.