RFA (radiofrequency ablation) is an established therapy for HCC (hepatocellular carcinoma). The multikinase inhibitor sorafenib prolongs survival in advanced HCC. We examined the effects of RFA alone and in combination with sorafenib on a bystanding tumour in a two-tumour rat model of HCC. A total of 80 rats were implanted with two liver tumours and randomized to four treatment groups: vehicle and sham operation (control), sorafenib and sham operation (Sora/Sham), vehicle and RFA (Vh/RFA), and sorafenib and RFA (Sora/RFA) (n=10/group per time point). RFA or sham-operation was performed on the left lobe tumour on day 15. Animals were killed at day 18 and day 30. Non-RFA-targeted right lobe tumours were analysed for angiogenesis, growth factors [HGF (hepatocyte growth factor), EGF (epidermal growth factor) and VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor)] and infiltrating immune cells (CD3 and CD68). At day 30, the non-RFA-targeted tumours were significantly smaller in all three treatment groups compared with control (Sora/Sham P≤0.0001, Vh/RFA P=0.005 and Sora/RFA P≤0.0001). The smallest tumours were observed in animals treated with a combination of sorafenib and RFA, whereas the size reduction seen in the RFA-only group indicated an RFA-mediated distant suppression of tumour growth. Growth factor measurement revealed transiently decreased EGF levels after RFA (P=0.008), whereas sorafenib treatment decreased HGF levels (P=0.001). MVD (microvessel density) was reduced by sorafenib (P=0.002) despite increased VEGF levels (P≤0.0001). The immune parameters revealed augmented T-cells and IL-10 (interleukin 10) levels in all three treatment groups; sorafenib additionally increased macrophage numbers (P≤0.0001). RFA and sorafenib alone resulted in significant volume reduction of the non-RFA-targeted tumour; this effect was enhanced when both modalities were combined.

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