Preserving liver while removing all the cancer

“Radical-but-conservative” parenchymal-sparing hepatectomy (PSH) for colorectal liver metastases (Torzilli 2017) is increasing reported. The PSH revolution has two potential advantages: avoiding postoperative hepatic failure (POHF) and increasing the possibility of re-do surgery in the common event of future recurrence. However, early series reported worse long-term survival and higher positive margin rates with a parenchymal-sparing approach, with a debate ensuing about the significance of the latter in an era where energy-devices are more commonly employed in liver transection. No randomised controlled trials exist comparing PSH with major hepatectomy and case series are naturally biased by selection.

In this issues of HPB, Lordan and colleagues report a propensity-score matched case-control series of PSH vs. major hepatectomy. The results are striking. The PSH approach was associated with less blood transfusion (10.1 vs 27.7%), fewer major complications (3.8 vs 9.2%), and lower rates of POHF (0 vs 5.5%). Unusually, perioperative mortality (0.8 vs 3.8%) was also lower in the PSH group and longer-term oncologic and survival outcomes were similar.

Results of propensity-matched analyses must always be interpreted with selection bias in mind. Residual confounding always exists: the patients undergoing major hepatectomy almost certainly had undescribed differences from the PSH group and may not have been technically suitable for PSH. Matching did not account for year of surgery, so with PSH becoming more common the generally improved outcomes over time will bias in favour of the parenchymal-sparing approach. Yet putting those concerns aside, there are two salient results. Firstly, PSH promises less POHF and in this series, there was none. Secondly, PSH promises greater opportunity for redo liver surgery. There was 50% liver-only recurrence in both groups. Although not reported by the authors, a greater proportion of PSH patients underwent redo surgery (35/119 (29.4%) vs. 23/130 (17.7%) (p=0.03). Perhaps for some patients, the PSH revolution is delivering some of its promised advantages.