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To establish an evidence-based cut-off to differentiate between early and late recurrence and to compare clinicopathologic risk factors between the two groups.A clear definition of “early recurrence” after pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma resection is currently lacking.Patients undergoing pancreatectomy for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma between 2000 and 2013 were included. Exclusion criteria were neoadjuvant therapy and incomplete follow-up. A minimum P-value approach was used to evaluate the optimal cut-off value of recurrence-free survival to divide the patients into early and late recurrence cohorts based on subsequent prognosis. Potential risk factors for early recurrence were assessed with logistic regression models.Of 957 included patients, 204 (21.3%) were recurrence-free at last follow-up. The optimal length of recurrence-free survival to distinguish between early (n = 388, 51.5%) and late recurrence (n = 365, 48.5%) was 12 months (P < 0.001). Patients with early recurrence had 1-, and 2-year post-recurrence survival rates of 20 and 6% compared with 45 and 22% for the late recurrence group (both P < 0.001). Preoperative risk factors for early recurrence included a Charlson age-comorbidity index ≥4 (OR 1.65), tumor size > 3.0 cm on computed tomography (OR 1.53) and CA 19-9 > 210 U/mL (OR 2.30). Postoperative risk factors consisted of poor tumor differentiation grade (OR 1.66), microscopic lymphovascular invasion (OR 1.70), a lymph node ratio > 0.2 (OR 2.49), and CA 19-9 > 37 U/mL (OR 3.38). Adjuvant chemotherapy (OR 0.28) and chemoradiotherapy (OR 0.29) were associated with a reduced likelihood of early recurrence.A recurrence-free interval of 12 months is the optimal threshold for differentiating between early and late recurrence, based on subsequent prognosis.