Transcatheter arterial chemoembolization (TACE) is the standard of care for patients with preserved liver function and asymptomatic, noninvasive multinodular hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) confined to the liver. However, the survival benefit of conventional TACE - including the administration of an anticancer agent-in-oil emulsion followed by embolic agents - reported in randomized controlled trials and meta-analyses was described as modest. Various strategies to improve outcomes for this patient group have become the subject of much ongoing clinical research. The introduction of embolic, drug-eluting beads (DEB) for transarterial administration has been shown to significantly reduce liver toxicity and systemic drug exposure compared to conventional regimens. The addition of molecular targeted drugs to the therapeutic armamentarium for HCC has prompted the design of clinical trials aimed at investigating the synergies between TACE and systemic treatments. Combining TACE with agents with anti-angiogenic properties represents a promising strategy, because TACE is thought to cause local hypoxia, resulting in a temporary increase in levels of vascular endothelial growth factor. Recently, a large phase II randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (the SPACE study) has shown that the concurrent administration of DEB-TACE and sorafenib has a manageable safety profile and has suggested that time to progression and time to vascular invasion or extrahepatic spread may be improved with respect to DEB-TACE alone. These data support the further evaluation of molecular targeted, systemically active agents in combination with DEB-TACE in a phase III setting.
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