Programmed cell death protein-1 (PD-1) inhibitors have shown promising results for treating advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, the clinical utility of such inhibitors in HCC patients with vascular tumor thrombosis remains unclear. This study investigated PD-1 inhibitor efficacy in advanced HCC with macrovascular invasion in a clinical setting. Among the 110 patients with unresectable HCC treated with PD-1 inhibitors, 34 patients with vascular metastases in the portal vein and inferior vena cava were retrospectively compared with 34 patients without tumor thrombi. The vascular response and its effect on survival were assessed. Predictors of survival were identified using multivariate analysis. Among patients achieving objective response, those with and without thrombi exhibited similar response to immunotherapy and comparable survival. Among the 34 patients with tumor thrombi, including 13 receiving PD-1 inhibitors alone and 21 receiving it in combination with tyrosine kinase inhibitors, the median overall survival was 8.9 months (95% confidence interval 3.2–12.6). The objective response rate of vascular metastasis was 52.9%, and vascular responders had a significantly longer survival than did non-responders (11.1 vs 3.9 months). Failure to obtain a vascular response correlated significantly with increased post-treatment Child–Pugh score or class. Multivariate analysis showed that vascular response was a significant positive factor for longer overall survival. Treatment-related grade 3/4 adverse events occurred in 3 (8.8%) of the patients with tumor thrombi. Immunotherapy with PD-1 inhibitors may be a feasible treatment option for HCC with tumor thrombi owing to the high response rate of tumor thrombi and favorable survival outcomes.
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