Background: Mixed evidence challenges preoperative alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) as an independent prognostic factor for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) after hepatectomy.

Results: Daily post-operative decrease of AFP by 9% as compared to the preoperative level (A09) were selected as the Cut-off. The Kaplan-Meier curve showed that A09 was significantly different for OS (P=0.043) and RFS (P=0.03). A decrease in risk by 54% was observed for OS and 32% for RFS in the at-risk population (A09>9%). A better concordance was observed after adding A09 into TNM and BCLC staging systems. Moreover, a consistent concordance was observed in the internal (FDZS5:0.63; FDZS3:0.608) and external (FDZS5:0.85; FDZS3:0.762) validation cohorts, suggesting its prognostic value in HCC population with elevated AFP.

Conclusions: Decrease in perioperative serum AFP rather than preoperative AFP is an independent prognostic factor for HCC patients after hepatectomy. Cut-off A09 significantly discriminates overall and recurrence-free survival and could be interpret into TNM and BCLC staging systems to improve the stratification power for HCC patients with elevated AFP.

Methods: Kaplan-Meier curve depicted the differences of overall survival (OS) and recurrence-free survival (RFS). Nomogram and concordance were employed to evaluate the superiority of the current staging system.