Background & Aims: Few studies have been conducted to compare the efficacies of stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) and radiofrequency ablation (RFA). Thus, in this multinational study, we compared the effectiveness of SBRT and RFA in patients with unresectable HCC. Methods: The retrospective study cohort included 2,064 patients treated in 7 hospitals: 1,568 and 496 in the RFA and SBRT groups, respectively. More than half of the patients (56.5%) developed recurrent tumors, mainly after transarterial chemoembolization (44.8%). Propensity score matching was performed to adjust for clinical factors (n = 313 in each group). Results: At baseline, the SBRT group had unfavorable clinical features compared to the RFA group, including BCLC stage (B-C 65% vs. 16%), tumor size (median 3.0 cm vs. 1.9 cm), and frequent history of liver-directed treatment (81% vs. 49%, all p <0.001). With a median follow-up of 27.7 months, the 3-year cumulative local recurrence rates in the SBRT and RFA groups were 21.2% and 27.9%, respectively (p <0.001). After adjusting for clinical factors, SBRT was related to a significantly lower risk of local recurrence than RFA in both the entire (hazard ratio [HR] 0.45, p <0.001) and matched (HR 0.36, p <0.001) cohorts. In subgroup analysis, SBRT was associated with superior local control in small tumors (≤3 cm) irrespective of location, large tumors located in the subphrenic region, and those that progressed after transarterial chemoembolization. Acute grade ≥3 toxicities occurred in 1.6% and 2.6% of the SBRT and RFA patients, respectively (p = 0.268). Conclusions: SBRT could be an effective alternative to RFA for unresectable HCC, particularly for larger tumors (>3 cm) in a subphrenic location and tumors that have progressed after transarterial chemoembolization. Lay summary: It is currently not known what the best treatment option is for patients with unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma. Here, we show that stereotactic body radiation therapy provides better local control than radiofrequency ablation, with comparable toxicities. Stereotactic body radiation therapy appears to be an effective alternative to radiofrequency ablation that should be considered when there is a higher risk of local recurrence or toxicity after radiofrequency ablation.
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