Serum alpha-fetoprotein level per total tumor volume as a predictor of recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma after resection

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Alpha-fetoprotein has been used as a predictor of recurrence for hepatocellular carcinoma and disease-free survival post-resection. Studies in East Asia have shown that serum alpha-fetoprotein per total tumor volume ratio is a better prognostic indicator than alpha-fetoprotein alone. Similar studies in the United States evaluating serum alpha-fetoprotein to total tumor volume ratio have not been conducted. Its relevance is incompletely understood.


Consecutive patients undergoing resection for hepatocellular carcinoma at a single tertiary center between 2000 and 2013 were identified for inclusion in this retrospective cohort study. Patient demographics, associated liver disease, Child-Pugh and Model for End-Stage Liver Disease scores, preoperative imaging, surgical pathology, alpha-fetoprotein at diagnosis, last alpha-fetoprotein before surgery, and peak alpha-fetoprotein levels were recorded. Actual tumor volume by imaging volumetrics was used when available (n = 70). For the remaining cases, total tumor volume was calculated using the sum of the volumes of all the tumors ((4/3)πr3) where “r” is the mean radius of each lesion. Peak serum alpha-fetoprotein was used to calculate the alpha-fetoprotein to total tumor volume ratio.


A total of 124 patients resected for hepatocellular carcinoma between 2000 and 2013 were identified. Overall 1-, 3-, and 5-year survival post resection was 76%, 53%, and 35%, respectively. On multivariate analysis, peak alpha-fetoprotein to total tumor volume ratio > 20 (P < .001, HR = 3.72, 95% CI [1.82–7.58]) and lymphovascular space invasion (P = .002, HR = 3.30, 95% CI [1.57–6.94]) were found to affect hepatocellular carcinoma recurrence-free survival.


A variety of prognostic values predict the recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma postresection. Peak preoperative alpha-fetoprotein to total tumor volume > 20 and lymphovascular space invasion has been shown to predict recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma. Our study confirms findings from East Asian studies. But larger series are needed to establish this correlation in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma not treated by resection.

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