Hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected patients who achieve viral eradication may still develop hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Little is known about the impact of dynamic change of serum markers on HCC development.Methods
We enrolled 1351 HCV-infected patients who achieved sustained virological response (SVR). Laboratory data were collected at least 1 year after IFN-based therapy and to the latest follow-up. Data on α-fetoprotein (AFP) were obtained >6 months prior to HCC development to exclude HCC-related AFP elevation.Results
HCC developed in 49 patients. Risk factors for HCC in SVR patients were old age, liver cirrhosis, higher pre- and post-treatment AFP and high post-treatment AST-to-platelet ratio index (APRI). Patients with pre-AFP ≥15 ng/mL → post-AFP ≥15 ng/mL (at 1 year, 23.1%; 5 years, 42.3%) and pre-AFP <15 ng/mL → post-AFP ≥15 ng/mL (at 1 year, 25%; 5 years, 50%) had the highest risk of HCC development, followed by pre-AFP ≥15 ng/mL → post-AFP <15 ng/mL (at 1 year, 5.2%; 5 years, 7.6%) and pre-AFP <15 ng/mL → post-AFP ng/mL <15 ng/mL (at 1 year, 0.5%; 5 years, 0.9%) (P < 0.001). The pattern was similar for platelets and APRI (P < 0.001). SVR patients with pre-APRI ≥0.7 → post-APRI ≥0.7 had the highest risk of HCC development, followed by comparable risks among the other three groups.Conclusions
SVR patients with a persistently high AFP level (≥15 ng/mL) and a high APRI (≥0.7) before and after treatment had the highest incidence of HCC development. Patients with a reduction of AFP and APRI to the normal range after treatment had a markedly decreased risk of HCC. The risk was lowest for patients who kept persistently normal AFP and APRI before and after treatment.