Background: Prognosis for patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma with a tumor thrombus in the inferior vena cava or right atrium is extremely poor due to cancer progression, pulmonary embolism, and congestion of the circulatory system caused by right heart failure. Surgical resection of the tumor thrombi may potentially yield better results than non-surgical treatments through prevention of sudden death. However, the benefits of surgical resection in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma and a tumor thrombus extending to the inferior vena cava, right atrium, and potentially in the phrenic vein are unclear. Here, we report three such cases. Case presentation: Of the total 136 patients who underwent hepatectomies for hepatocellular carcinoma in our institution, three patients with prior hepatectomies and recurrent hepatocellular carcinoma had tumor thrombi in the inferior vena cava, right atrium, and phrenic vein. Surgical resections were performed, as there was a possibility of sudden death, despite the risk of leaving residual tumor. For all patients, we performed resection of the tumor thrombi in the inferior vena cava and right atrium and combined diaphragm resection. Surgical resection was performed using the total hepatic vascular exclusion technique in all cases. Additional passive veno-venous bypass was also performed in two cases, in which complete tumor resections could not be achieved. The microscopic surgical margins of the combined resected diaphragms were positive in all cases. Progression-free survival was 20.2, 3.8, and 9.5 months for case 1, 2, and 3, respectively. The respective overall postoperative survival was 98.0, 38.9, and 30.9 months. The patients died due to liver cirrhosis, acute heart failure, and hepatocellular carcinoma, respectively. Sudden death did not occur for any of the patients. Conclusion: Surgical resections may extend prognosis for patients with recurrent hepatocellular carcinoma with tumor thrombi in the inferior vena cava, right atrium, and phrenic vein, although the indications should be considered carefully.
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