Transarterial (chemo)embolisation for liver metastases

Primary liver tumours and liver metastases from colorectal carcinoma are the two most common malignant tumours to affect the liver. The liver is second only to the lymph nodes as the most common site for metastatic disease. More than half of the patients with metastatic liver disease will die from metastatic complications.

Chemoembolisation is based on the concept that the blood supply to hepatic tumours originates predominantly from the hepatic artery. Therefore, embolisation of the hepatic artery can lead to selective dying of the liver tumour while it may leave normal organ tissue virtually unaffected.

One randomised clinical trial comparing hepatic artery embolisation with control is included in the review; 22 patients received hepatic artery embolisation and 20 received control. The trial was judged to have a high risk of systematic errors (that is overestimation of benefits and underestimation of harms). Moreover, the trial has included so few patients that it carries high risk of random errors (that is play of chance).

On the basis of one small randomised trial that did not describe in detail the randomisation procedure and is probably not free from selective outcome reporting bias, it can be concluded that no significant benefits or harms are found in patients with liver metastases on survival or on extrahepatic recurrence between the embolisation group and the control or palliation group. (Chemo)embolisation cannot be recommended outside randomised clinical trials.

Authors' conclusions: 

On the basis of one small randomised trial that did not describe sequence generation, allocation concealment or blinding, it can be concluded that in patients with liver metastases no significant survival benefit or benefit on extrahepatic recurrence was found in the embolisation group in comparison with the palliation group. The probability for selective outcome reporting bias in the trial is high. At present, transarterial (chemo)embolisation cannot be recommended outside randomised clinical trials.

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Background: 

Primary liver tumours and liver metastases from colorectal carcinoma are the two most common malignant tumours to affect the liver. The liver is second only to the lymph nodes as the most common site for metastatic disease. More than half of the patients with metastatic liver disease will die from metastatic complications. Chemoembolisation is based on the concept that the blood supply to hepatic tumours originates predominantly from the hepatic artery. Therefore, embolisation of the hepatic artery can lead to selective necrosis of the liver tumour while it may leave normal parenchyma virtually unaffected.

Objectives: 

To study the beneficial and harmful effects of transarterial (chemo)embolisation compared with no intervention or placebo intervention in patients with liver metastases.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Science Citation Index Expanded, LILACS, and CINAHL up to December 2012.

Selection criteria: 

We included all randomised clinical trials assessing beneficial and harmful effects of transarterial (chemo)embolisation compared with no intervention or placebo intervention in patients with liver metastases, no matter the location of the primary tumour.

Data collection and analysis: 

We extracted relevant information on participant characteristics, interventions, study outcome measures, and data on the outcome measures for our review as well as information on the design and methodology of the studies. Bias risk assessment of the trials, fulfilling the inclusion criteria, and data extraction from the retrieved final evaluation trials were done by one author and checked by a second author.

Main results: 

One randomised clinical trial fulfilled the inclusion criteria of the review. Sixty-one patients with colorectal liver metastases were randomised into three intervention groups: 22 received hepatic artery embolisation, 19 received hepatic artery infusion chemotherapy, and 20 were randomised to control, described as "no active therapeutic intervention, although symptomatic treatment was provided whenever necessary". As hepatic artery infusion chemotherapy is not in the scope of this review, we have not included the data from this intervention group. In the remaining two groups that were of interest to the review, 43 of the participants were men and 18 women. Most tumours were synchronous metastases involving up to 75% of the liver and non-resectable. The risk of bias in the trial was judged to be high.

Patients were followed-up for a minimum of seven months. Mortality at last follow-up was 86% (19/22) in the hepatic artery embolisation group versus 95% (19/20) in the control group (RR 0.91; 95% CI 0.75 to 1.1), that is, no statistically significant difference was observed. Median survival after trial entry was 7.0 months (range 2 to 44) in the hepatic artery embolisation group and 7.9 months (range 1 to 26) in the control group. Nine out of 22 (41%) in the hepatic artery embolisation group and five out of 20 (25%) in the control group developed evidence of extrahepatic disease (RR 1.64; 95% CI 0.60 to 4.07). Local recurrence was reported for 10 patients in the trial without details about the trial group. Most patients in the embolisation group experienced post-embolic syndrome (82%), and one patient had local haematoma. No other adverse events were reported. The authors did not report if there were any adverse events in the control group.

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